Elif Batuman: painting the bars.

“I grew up in a very stressed family with a lot of family stress and secrets, and I found novels to be the only mode of description that was talking about the things that I actually thought were interesting, like what goes on inside a house and what are the relationships between the people there. The novels that I was attracted to were often the ones that described the disenfranchisement of women or the bullshit that women and children had to go through. All the unfairness and all the hypocrisy that people sort of metabolize and assimilate and how there are still these moments of beauty and of interpersonal complexity and richness. Novels made life seem worth living to me, they made life seem beautiful. You know there’s that famous quote that Nabokov said about Lolita, that it was about the first painting ever painted by an animal—it was an ape at the Jardine de Plant—the poor animal painted the bars of its cage. I feel like that’s every novel. Maybe not every novel but all my favorite novels. And what they were doing was saying ‘But look at these bars, aren’t they interesting, aren’t they beautiful. Look how the light falls. This wouldn’t happen if there weren’t bars.’ Anyways, I feel like the novel led me to aestheticize my own imprisonment. Which is sort of natural for a child, because you sort of are in prison as a child. But I preserved that mechanism into my adulthood and well into my early 30s and I didn’t really understand to what extent I was free and to what extent I could use my writing [and] how the novel can be an instrument of freedom as well.” 

I had to read the above twice. Alright, maybe three times. Painting the bars of your own cage? My life will not be the same.

I’ve been reading and re-reading David Sedaris books and it’s amazing how he can gently write about his family’s idiosyncrasies and idiocies while somehow not being offensive, at least to me. But I love the idea that Elif Batuman became free by reading the insider info of novels and letting it free her brain of the prison.

via Laura Olin

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