Loads of Learned Lumber

Friday, July 8, 2016

Robyn Schiff, _A Woman of Property_, interim report

I HAVE HOPES of writing about this volume in a more-frequented corner of the internet than my little (though beloved, of me) anonymous blog, but I feel compelled to note here an especially striking sentence, from "A Hearing":

            Every time I descend the stairs I
trespass what I already own.

The statement seems to be about going into a basement, as there's a reference to changing a filter on a boiler, and in my part of the world, such operations occur only in basements. It has, I expect, metaphorical extension in several dimensions and is about "more" than going down into basements, but the unnerving thing for me is that is exactly how I have felt, since childhood, about going into basements, and I have never seen it expressed so compactly and accurately.

Basements, even the basements of the houses I live in, have always seemed to be the domain of some Other--ghosts, trolls, basement beings--who need to be acknowledged, placated, flattered (like the Eumenides) before they will permit your presence in their world to go undisturbed. However much time you spend there, whatever favorite toys are kept there, whatever activities routinely occur there, whatever necessary chores (e.g., laundry) occur there, you are never on your own ground in a basement; you are trespassing.  The basement belongs to them. You are there on sufferance only, under surveillance, even if you have paid off your mortgage (as I have) and own that basement free and clear, your basement is not yours.

I have not the least idea whether this is what Schiff actually had in mind--but it coincides so perfectly with an intuition I have had since I was a pre-schooler that I am grateful for its articulation, whatever she actually had in mind.

I haven't finished the book, but it is the spookiest thing I have read since There Is No Year. 

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