VII: My Negative Freedom

I think of a woman who was not in fact my mother carefully peeling and slicing an apple for herself with a small wooden handled knife. In the course of a succession of days in which neither of us had the imagination to escape from a house not so very deep in the country, she would talk of her marriage and of torture inflicted upon her by her own mother in some utopian estate at the edge of London.

(When she had been ash for a dozen years I found myself in love with a girl who brought the sense of her upbringing back to me: she would return from a visit to her mother with a black eye or split lip, fingermarks purple on each arm.)

The matter least discussed was that of my origin. My entire knowledge of this had been drawn from a single intense glimpse of a forbidden document. I had been left with the belief that human relationship was a possession granted through language.

She made a ritual of lighting a cigarette or breaking a bar of chocolate in the manner of a person who had nothing to spare. The realisation that she had such a poor life, that she could be at once so vivid and so desperately insubstantial was my first experience of the process of tearing aside the world with which I was familiar that I would learn to call dialectic.

More or less everything she told me was wrong. Whether she meant to or not, she taught me that the only defence against entrapment was to reduce experience to a narrative and then pray that the event itself might become forgotten. (I find the most honest course is to learn to be inarticulate, never so much as write a letter.)