Wednesday, May 03, 2006

domestic butchery and narrative time

I will weigh in on Bill Buford's latest, Carnal Knowledge, as quickly as I can.

In addition to an excellent pun, mzn has a good critique of the ridiculously elaborate creative nonfiction that Buford attempts. I read Haverchuk first, so I took heed and tried to just read the "I'm butchering a pig at home" sections together, in order, followed by the "I'm learning butchery in Tuscany" sections.

The "I'm learning butchery in Tuscany" sections were cloying picturesque; if there is such thing this is definately it.

And if you want a good description of domestic pig butchery, I vote (as usual) for Laura Ingalls Wilder. The very first chapter of the very first book, Little House in the Big Woods.

After Wilder locates you in the middle of nowhere, "As far as a man could go to the north in a day, or a week, or a whole month, there was nothing but woods" she tells you so beautifully, and simply, "The little girl was named Laura and she called her father, Pa, and her mother, Ma. In those days and in that place, children did not say Father and Mother, nor Mamma and Papa, as they do now." And then they all butcher a hog.

It's such a firm but gentle introduction to real historical difference, and I appreciated this even when I was little. Clearly she wasn't talking about any family I had ever known or any family even remotely like mine had ever been and she wasn't even talking directly to me, as I didn't call my parents Ma or Pa or Father and Mother or Mamma and Papa . . . Heads up, kid, you're going to have use your imagination, and this text, to understand what happened "in those days and in that place" to a pig and I love how vague and diectical/indexical that phrase is, she's not even going to tell you where and when she's just going to describe them for you, slowly, over time.

Contrast this with the agressive "I've got a pig in an elevator and Italians sing opera and isn't that wild" attitude of Buford. Ug.

And, hopefully, I can stop talking about Laura Ingalls Wilder after this last, brief mention. Little House in the Big Woods closes like this:

She thought to herself, "This is now."

She was glad that the cosy house, and Pa and Ma and the firelight and the music, were now. They could not be forgotten, she thought because now is now. It can never be a long time ago.


Taken out of context, "It can never be a long time ago" might mean the past is behind us and never returns. But in this context, it's like it means the exact opposite. As if time can never be experienced as passing in a linear way, because only the present is knowable. Now is now. Brilliant. Or . . . ?

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2 Comments:

Blogger EL said...

I appreciate your giving a little time to my request. I was writhing in pain while reading and after reading it, and when that happens I always pop right on over to see if you've hated on it yet. :)

I remember this guy I met who told me, upon our first meeting, that he'd spent a year in France learning to be a stone mason. This guy, a wealthy Harvard grad, romanticizing the life of the French craftsman ... it was too much. My friends and I called him the "stone mason" with disdain when we referred to him ever afterward. I hadn;t thought about him for quite awhile, until I read this piece and the whole tone and tenor reminded me so much of the "stone mason".

11:36 AM  
Blogger zp said...

"the stone mason" - i love it. at my alma mater, all the romanticising boys liked to travel to nepal . . .

10:27 AM  

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