Granta 107, ed John Freeman
Sunday 09 August 2009
What is it that enables us to survive and what renders us "incapable of functioning"? In his poignant story of a blind man groping his way, alone, through the darkest of places, Tamas Dobozy explores complex "intersections of need". At the heart of other pieces is not the functioning of an individual but a city itself, such as in Rana Dasgupta's tale of Delhi.
How sources of power can be paradoxically destructive is documented visually in Mitch Epstein's striking photographs of "the grim reality of American power", showing black smoke churning into the sky. Jackie Kay's protagonist fuels herself with whisky, Kenzaburo Oe's narrator clings to "soporific cold medicine", while Rupert Thomson's piece is fuelled by the tale of an eccentric uncle who lives on boiled rice and Benson & Hedges.
How painful it is when people stop functioning at all is evoked in a moving poem by Sam Willetts, with "Dad/dead", rhymes curdling around "dead/lead". "His absence is brute/absurdity". The absurdity of missing things and the eerie line separating the human and inanimate is a concern in other compelling pieces. In "Don't Touch Me", Lionel Shriver explores her love of sculpture, which is both burden and liberation. In a deserted studio, powered by listening to Kate Bush, she builds sculptures in poses ranging through doleful, pensive, exhausted, despairing and defiant. Only when one of them is accidentally smashed by a plumber and she regrettably unleashes her rage does she investigate the roots of this attachment.
From the "energy landscape" to emotional and psychic terrains, this is a far-reaching collection, probing those intersections of need; asking, as does Terence Holt, when it is a sign of weakness to need, and the question captured in Mahmoud Darwish's journals: "What's it all for?"
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