To Thine Own Self Be True

Today – on and off – I have been flicking through Katherine Mansfield’s letters and journals once more. I woke up thinking about her, something within endeavouring to remind me that no matter how fed up with my current predicament I may get, it’s not life threatening.

I remember reading Katherine Mansfield’s letters and journals for the first time in my twenties. It is hard not to feel so sad at some of the passages where she expresses such a strong feeling for life, a passionate desire to engage with it fully; this eagerness and sensitivity to the world’s wonders and horrors  are constantly overshadowed by her TB. In some ways perhaps that drive to engage becomes all the more powerful and poignant because of it.

Today, her letters have helped me to put my own fear and panic into perspective. I took the full dose of Utovlan yesterday and by midnight I had become very heavy. I woke at five in the morning heavier and in pain. I hate waking in the middle of the night like this – at those moments, sleep seems to skin our psyches leaving us raw and vulnerable – things always seem worse in the middle of the night.

This morning brought a greater clarity and the Utovlan got packed away – it was obviously not going to decrease the flow – quite the opposite – and so now I have gone back to just me and ‘the little stick of happiness’, which feels like enough to be going on with!

Here’s a little from Katherine’s journal, dated April 1920 – I rather like this:

True to oneself? Which self? Which of my many – well really, that’s what it looks like coming to – hundreds of selves? For what with complexes and repressions and reactions and vibrations and reflections, there are moments when I feel I am nothing but the small clerk of some hotel without a proprietor, who has all his work cut out to enter the names and hand the keys to the wilful guests.

Nevertheless, there are signs that we are intent as never before on trying to puzzle out, to live by, our own particular self. ‘Der Mensch muss frei sein’ – free, disentangled, single. Is it not possible that the rage for confession, autobiography, especially for memories of earliest childhood, is explained by our persistent yet mysterious belief in a self which is continuous and permanent; which, untouched by all we acquire and all we shed, pushes a green spear through the dead leaves and the mould, thrusts a scaled bud through years of darkness until, one day, the light discovers it and shakes the flower free and – we are alive – we are flowering for our moment upon the earth? This is the moment which, after all, we live for – the moment of direct feeling when we are most ourselves and least personal.

 

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2 Comments

  1. February 2, 2010 at 3:36 pm

    Hello Maria – Putting a few links on my blog I saw yours there and decided to pop in. Glad you’re a fan of KM. There’s a lovely little KM museum (her childhood home) in Wellington, and when there I bought ‘The Russian World of Katherine Mansfield’ (2001) by Joanna Woods. A biography that focuses on her Russian links, but like another bio I read on her, it focused too much on outer events rather than on the changes in her inner landscape I felt. They both didn’t tell me enough about her spiritual life…but in the end perhaps one gets all one needs to know about a writer’s spiritual life from their words…

  2. luckyloom1 said,

    February 2, 2010 at 7:15 pm

    Hi Philip! Lovely to have you here! This is why diary writing fascinates me so much. Caught a wonderful programme the other night with Richard.E.Grant looking into whether journal writing is ‘truthful’ with regards to that inner landscape; what people choose to express (or not) and the function it plays for them. We can hide and obscure so much with our words, even from ourselves, and yet I find I am constantly curious about this inner landscape in myself and others and the way this is expressed creatively.

    Being human can be such a puzzle – to read another’s words and feel them to be your own (in spirit at least), or to sense a veil lifting because someone has lived and expressed something authentically, is what makes writing and reading such a spiritual act. There is a very moving letter by KM, one of her last, where she writes of her intense desire to live ‘…warm, eager, living life – to be rooted in life – to learn, to desire to know, to feel, to think, to act. That is what I want. And nothing less. That is what I must try for.’ As words from a dying woman, they impact powerfully. The impossiblility of truly being able to write and understand fully the complexity of our, or another’s, inner life, doesn’t detract from the power of trying to make sense of it. In the attempt to make sense, I think we find each other, not merely in a clinging together for comfort kind of a way, but in a much deeper, mystical sense, that can leave us feeling we have touched a little on something greater. Reading KM’s letter, her words express some of my own deepest desires and fears -it’s an incredible gift to a reader to be able to articulate that which lurks behind the masks we all feel compelled to wear.

    Biographies can often say so much more about the biographer than the subject. Have you read A.S Byatt’s ‘Possession’? Brilliant book on this subject. Thanks for dropping by P!


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