“Chaunt” by Joy Williams – Selection 37 of #DealMeIn2019

The Card: ♦Jack♦ of Diamonds

The Suit: For Deal Me In 2019, ♦♦♦Diamonds♦♦♦ are my Suit for stories which I intended to listen to rather than read. Several of this suit are from The New Yorker, which often includes an audible file of the author herself reading the story. Sadly, for this one, my iPad was taking an inordinately long time to load the audio version, so I just read it the old-fashioned way. 🙂

The Author: Joy Williams. I know I’ve read her before, but I can’t remember what. I do know I haven’t blogged about her before.

The Story: “Chaunt” from the December 10, 2018 edition of The New Yorker magazine. I “own” it via my digital subscription to that publication. The best part is, as a digital subscriber, I have access to their short story archive going back “forever.” Me like. 🙂

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details may be found here  but generally speaking it’s a reading challenge where participants try to read one short story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for the list of stories I’ll be reading in 2019.

Chaunt

“Night was best, for, as everyone knows but does not tell, the sobbing of the earth is most audible at night. You can hear it clearly then, but the sobbing still harbors a little bit of hope, a little bit of promise that the day does not afford.”

This was a puzzling story indeed, and it was only with pointed, post-reading research that I may have finally got a handle on it. The main character, Jane Click, (probably non-accidental initials) is living in a kind of rest home-like facility, and grieving the death of her young son who, along with a friend was killed by an automobile while bicycling to the nearby “ghost town” named Chaunt.

The facility where she now lives, called The Dove, is on a barren stretch of land in a world that is deteriorating around her – perhaps the result of climate change, (The author is a noted advocate for conservation and environmental issues) but there are no details given. Those left running things are a younger generation, seemingly trying to make the best of what has been left to them by the generation of which Jane is a part.

There is also a somewhat Christ-like fellow resident of The Dove whose name is Theodore. He volunteers to drive Jane to Chaunt to see the ruins of a church where her son used to play, but – he doesn’t have a car. Her son’s friend is named Jerome – yet another name with religious overtones. Everything feels so hopeless in Jane’s existence, In spite of the faint glimmer offered by the quotation above. Since no details are given about “How did it come to this” I’m assuming the takeaway from the story for the reader is supposed to be an emotional one. One clue about the state of things is given by a brief conversation between Jane and a fellow resident of The Dove:

“There’s something we should have done and we didn’t do it is my suspicion. But life goes its merry way without us. Everything’s provisional.” “I disagree,” someone said. “I think what’s happened is permanent and not provisional at all.”

A bleak future may be in store for us and our upcoming generations, but one must have faith in human ingenuity and resilience, as I do. It’s funny that the luck of the draw for Deal Me In had me picking this story just after reading one from an anthology “Solarpunk: Ecological And Fantastical Stories In a Sustainable World” (another of my sources for #DealMeIn2019. More on that one later I hope.

What about you? Have you read any “End of the World Stories?” One such that I was reminded of when reading this one was Ray Bradbury’s “The Last Night In Earth” which I once blogged about here.

(author pic from a  New York Times article; playing card image found at http://climaterevolutioin.co.uk/wp/2017/10/27/jack of diamonds)

Tradition and the Individual Talent – an essay by T.S. Eliot – selection #13 of Deal Me In 2017

 

The Card: ♠3♠ of Spades (image at left found here)

The Suit: For this year’s Deal Me In, the suit of Spades is the domain of Clotho, one of the Fates from Greek Mythology who, according to Plato’s Republic sings of “things that are.”

The Selection: “Tradition and the Individual Talent” from my hard copy of The Best American Essays of the Century (edited by Joyce Carol Oates). Originally published in The Egoist in 1919.

The Author: T.S. Eliot – You may have heard of him. 🙂 He won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1948, and one of his best known works is 1922’s “The Wasteland” – one of the “best known poems in the English language” according to Wikipedia.

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details maybe found here, but generally speaking it’s a reading challenge where participants read one short story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for a list of the stories/essays I’ll be reading in 2017.

Tradition and the Individual Talent

“Some one said: ‘The dead writers are remote from us because we know so much more than they did.’ Precisely, and they are what we know.”

I have to say that this reading was one of the most challenging I’ve ever done for Deal Me In over the years. I guess it serves me right for including some essays this time, doesn’t it? Nonetheless, I pressed on and spent about forty-five minutes reading the mere nine pages this essay contained. Even the author himself seemed to recognize the difficulty of his subject – roughly the poet’s place in the literary tradition and his relationship to the past. At one point he even says, “To proceed to a more intelligible exposition…” which I found a remarkable thing for an essayist to “admit.” Near the end of the essay he begins a paragraph with “The point of view which I am struggling to attack…” if the writer himself is struggling, what may be expected of a poor reader like me?

One part of the essay I did find myself connecting with, however, was when Eliot employs an analogy from Chemistry, that of the concept of a catalyst, specifically, the reaction when platinum is introduced into a chamber that contains oxygen and sulphuric dioxide:

“When the two gasses are mixed in the presence of a filament of platinum, they form sulphurous acid. This combination takes place only if the platinum is present; nevertheless the newly formed acid contains no trace of platinum, and the platinum itself is unaffected; has remained inert, neutral, and unchanged. The mind of the poet is the shred of platinum.”

Eliot’s chemical analogies continued, including: “The poet’s mind is in fact a receptacle for seizing and storing up numberless feelings, phrases, images, which remain until all the particles which can unite to form a new compound are present together.”

That’s all I got. I’ll leave you with that. What has been your most challenging read of Deal and In – this year or any year?

Next up: A Deal Me In quarterly report and the Deal Me In Challenge’s first-ever giveaway! Stay tuned.