Eloquent Silences

Corey Robin has written a genuinely wonderful response to James Wood’s review of Greg Bellow’s new memoir. Wood himself has even commented on the response. I want here simply to reply to the question posed in Corey Robin’s title: “Are We Not All the Child Memoirists of Writers?” My answer to this is: “It depends”. If the “writer” metaphor is simply that – a metaphor that stands for the mysterious interior life of our parents, beyond the care and devotion they bestow on us – then yes. But if Robin means it somewhat more literally – which phrases such as “their real life may be the life they lead elsewhere, which may also be on a page, whether a diary, a letter, a legal brief, a memo” – then I’d say no, simply because most people do not write down their inner, mysterious lives but live them out in an often painful, occasionally tragic silence. Ironically, I suspect it is partly their realisation that this is so which drives many people to become writers in the first place. They recognise the eloquent silences of people’s lives and, unlike those who live them, cannot bear to leave them unsaid. I myself have never understood why literature has at certain points in its history aspired to the pristine nothingness of silence, for it can be a truly terrible thing.

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