Drifts by Kate Zambreno Read Online (FREE)
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It should be remembered that the bulk of the work they were doing was preliminary: sketches, notes, jottings.
—CÉSAR AIRA, AN EPISODE IN THE LIFE OF A LANDSCAPE PAINTER
a work that feels unfinished, thin, accounts of indisposition and sickness, books to be sick with, diaries, whispers and notes
—FROM THE DELETED TWITTER OF SOFIA SAMATAR
SKETCHES OF ANIMALS AND LANDSCAPES
In the summer of 1907, in a letter to his wife from Paris, the poet Rainer Maria Rilke meditates on three branches of heather placed in a blue velvet-lined pencil box before him on his desk. The splendor of these fragments, which had arrived folded into her previous letter, he has been admiring for days. The poet notes the various tones and textures of the heather, the radiant green flecked with gold like embroidery woven into a Persian rug with violet silk, the complicated autumnal scents within it, the depth, of the grave almost, and yet again wind, tar, turpentine, and Ceylon tea, but also resinous like incense. At this point, his marriage is almost entirely epistolary. His wife, Clara Westhoff, a sculptor, is back in their farmhouse in Germany, taking care of their young daughter, Ruth. She is no longer able to be the peripatetic artist, keeping her various studios in Paris and Rome, leaving Ruth with her grandparents in the country. Rilke writes to Clara that he is truly ashamed he was not happy when he could have walked in an abundance of this heather, when they lived together for that honeymoon year, noting the flowers of this urban summer—the dahlias and tall gladiolas and red geraniums. It is in these letters that he attempts a prose like the weather he details, language he will lift for his novel that will take him close to a decade to write. To see and to work, he writes to Clara. How different they are. It is in this letter, reflecting on the fragments of heather he had failed to observe when they were waving in fields before him, that Rilke delivers his insight into the impossibility of the day and its relationship to writing: “One lives so badly, because one always comes into the present unfinished, unable, distracted.”
In the summer of 2015, I was supposed to be at work on Drifts, a book I had been under contract for almost as long as I had lived in this city, renting the first floor of a shabby Victorian house in a tree-lined neighborhood so remote it was almost a suburb. The title of the book came from a feeling, and I wanted to write through this feeling. What I really wanted to write was my present tense, which seemed impossible. How can a paragraph be a day, or a day a paragraph? But I couldn’t often exist in the room, or even in this paragraph, now. I found myself always distracted.
The publishing people told me that I was writing a novel, but I was unsure. What I didn’t tell them is that what I longed to write was a small book of wanderings, animals. A paper-thin object, a ghost. Filled with an incandescence toward the possibility of a book, as well as a paralysis. Maybe I was writing a novel, in the Robert Walser sense, his short forms like moods and digressions. “For me the sketches I produce now and then are shortish or longish chapters of a novel. The novel I am writing is always the same one, and it might be described as a variously sliced-up or torn-apart book of myself.”