what calliope did…

There is a stack of books next to my bed in Adelaide, mostly instilling disappointment in the novel as a literary form, left half-finished, discarded. I am a junkie for reading, I read myself into a stupor every night, until pages blur and the book drops from my fingers, and I do feel embarrassed at how, like a rat I will stalk whatever apartment or home I’m staying in for one more hit of ink on paper.

Until last weekend, I’d had a flat start to the year, compared to last year’s spectacular Baroque Cycle, Charles Stross and other works of genius. Then I stole Middlesex from Gala, yeah while she was still reading it, stealing candy from babies and all. And I have been meaning to ask why she keeps throwing books with such subject matter into my orbit (viz. Daniel Paul Schreber and Memoirs of My Nervous Illness).

I probably should have read this years ago, given the subject matter, or at least been slightly more au-fait with it, but in the spirit of mind-numbing stupidity, I can’t say I knew much about it at all. Despite the supremely enticing first sentence – “I was born twice: first, as a baby girl … and then again, as a teenage boy …” – it wasn’t until I met his incestuous brother/sister/cousin/husband/wife Greek grandparents, who ran rum in the prohibition era and later worked for Nation of Islam, the humour and surreal intrigue of the Stephanides family completely seduced me.

Perhaps I’ve been ineloquent in ever describing my own body’s adventure, or evolution, and the internal theatre accompanying this. There is an elegance and simplicity in language that can either instantaneously transport the listener into the experience and world of the speaker, or entangle them in endless misunderstanding, as confusing and bereft of meaning as a foreign language. Over and over reading Middlesex it was as if another me had written a letter to myself, to say exactly what eludes me in trying to explain my body, what I feel, the strangeness, both elating and desolate, of identity, what I am.

I was going to quote a couple of the more, uh, pertinent examples of this, as if to reinforce my assertions, but … rather to read the entire novel, so as to not belittle the sublime effect of language by truncating it. More though than simply an account of the inner turmoil, confusion that defies me, both as a body I seem to inhabit and the attractions to others that upwell and surge without reason, it’s Cal/Calliope’s life itself that is uncanny in its familiarity to mine.

Besides not being Greek that is. Though I guess having Turkish ancestry it’s possible some of my forebears raped and pillaged his in Smyrna. Perhaps best not to mention the colonial excursions of my family tree, maybe.

To grow with only the certainty something is … monstrous, to remember that now, or be reminded of it again, sometimes I feel I paused at twelve and only sporadically resumed living. Yes, it is a constant turmoil and confusion, sometimes wonderful, sometimes torturous. Anyway, read the book, though it seems I’m the last one to do so, I’m going to cook dinner now.

middlesex – jeffrey eugenides
middlesex – jeffrey eugenides