Friday, May 17, 2013

Evan S. Connell: "This over here is a two-thousand-year-old tortilla maker"

Last January, Harper's asked me to eulogize the late novelist and essayist Evan S. Connell (1924–2013):
Last Thursday — January 10, 2013 — news came that one of the most singular careers in American letters had reached its last full stop. Evan S. Connell was found in his Santa Fe apartment, dead at the age of 88. He died alone, attended, one presumes, by the “cracked Old Mexican pots and mutilated statuettes” he collected — which is also how he lived and how he wrote: apart from his contemporaries, in the company of antiquities, as if he did not entirely belong to his time.
He twice traveled solo around the globe. In his writing, he roamed across continents but also across centuries. Time — its obliterating passage — was his great subject. It’s there at the very beginning, in the title story of the first book, The Anatomy Lesson and Other Stories, published in 1957, when Connell was thirty-three. The art professor who delivers the eponymous anatomy lesson shows his students a Rembrandt portrait of a young woman: “He told them that some afternoon they would glance up by chance and see her; then they would know the meaning of Time — what it could destroy, what it could not.” We hear that note again in Connell’s debut novel, Mrs. Bridge,published in 1959In chapter forty-nine, titled “The Clock,” the novel’s heroine seeks refuge in a stasis she mistakes for permanence: “Time did not move. The home, the city, the nation, life itself was eternal; still she had a foreboding that one day, without warning and without pity, all the dear, important things would be destroyed.” . . . 
[The rest of the eulogy here]

Meanwhile, over at The Paris Review, Gemma Sieff, who used to edit the book reviews at Harper's, published a commemoration of her own and a sneak preview of her Paris Review interview with Connell, long in the making. The full interview, I understand, will be published this summer. One typically delightful exchange:
[Sieff:] Mr. Bridge copies out a love letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne: “Thou only hast revealed me to myself; for without thy aid, my best knowledge of myself, would have been merely to know my own shadow—to watch it flickering on the wall, and mistake its fantasies for my own real actions.” In your poem Notes from a Bottle Found at the Beach in Carmel, you write almost the opposite: “Come with me or stay. I am full of dreams and charged with strange excitement. Although I am not at ease in this world, there is no one who can stop me.”
[Connell:] This over here is a two-thousand-year-old tortilla maker.
The rest of the sneak preview is here