If Focusing Only on the Pleasant Bits Worked

Vonnegut, in Slaughterhouse-Five, has Billy Pilgrim talk about the Tralfamadorians' philosophy of ignoring the unpleasant times and focusing only on the positives. Pilgrim, however, is constantly being pulled back into the war and his times in Dresden. He is helpless to avoid it, although he compensates by creating a future with centerfold Montana Wildhack on a Tralfamadorian zoo where they live happily and procreate.  Wish fulfillment, lovely daydreams or schizophrenic visions?

I've taught this novel for several years, and each time, I try to deepen my knowledge of Vonnegut and his experiences and keep up with the literary criticism. I teach the novel through the lens of PTSD, and every semester, my confidence that this diagnosis fits both the man and the character grows. I don't reject any student's essay that argues against. I think we see things through our own experiences and we recognize kindred spirits when we run across them. 

I'm setting the novel aside after this semester, though, having decided to give it and me a break. Of course the work I've chosen to replace it with is even far more harrowing. That seems to be me: literature and art should make us feel raw, visceral. Grave of the Fireflies will certainly do it.

I cannot seem to escape the films or novels of my youth. They seared themselves into my psyche and I must continually take them out, turn them around, explore them. Break them down and build them up again. Break myself down, and work at rebuilding myself. And as I run across works new to me, I must study them, too, make sense of them. Drain every drop of feeling from it.

I'm not terribly interested in stories that wrap up with a neat and pretty bow, allowing the characters to live happily ever after. I'm interested in characters who suffer and bleed but still keep crawling forward, and in understanding those characters who don't, those who give up, like Pilgrim. 

Life in the disability community, teaching students year after year, and age have all combined to show me how messy and difficult life is. How broken we often are. And as Maya Angelou reminds, of how we can rise again.


Dixie Redmond said...

I read a quote by Saint Benedict today, which relates: "Always we begin again". It's the getting stuck in the past that keeps us from doing that. Yes, life is messy and difficult. But minute by minute, we begin again. I hope.

Chris D said...

I have not heard of Grave of the Fireflies. Just googled it.

I usually read one book a year that tears me apart and spend the rest of the year recovering with far less intense books.

This year it was a book called The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld.


I had a friend from my church that said in life, we keep coming back to the same thing, the same lesson. We learn it and then have to relearn it in a new perspective. It's actually better that way. There are parts of me that I don't want to stay the same.