Thursday, May 19, 2022 May 19, 2022
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Frederick Turner’s Ghost Story

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Intrigued to find that Fred Turner, who has more books than Bach had children, has yet another one that he’s performing tomorrow night, I called him up to ask him about what he has in mind with his Wayfarer. Say a little about who the wayfarer is.
The wayfarer himself, in one sense, is me, in a kind of – how can I put it? – somewhat exaggerated version of the way that I felt after my major medical problem [several years ago]. The major life-threatening problems plus major life-threatening operations plus major use of painkillers.
There’s a posthumous feel to it that’s surely intentional.
That’s the key thing – he’s died. Of course, there are all kinds of situations in our contemporary world where you could have died – your heart could have stopped during an operation – and also some kinds of medical things can cause severe loss of memory. Maybe he’s some kind of ghost, but with a physical reality. Or has he been reincarnated in some kind of Hindu way?
Or is he perhaps in paradise? The first few sonnets might make one think that. But then he’s in the real world, but one in which there seems to be some legal recognition of people like him. He’s willed much of his wealth in his previous life to himself, as well as to his heirs, but he doesn’t remember who his heirs are. He meets a woman who might have been his wife. We’re unsure of his status. He has, in fact, to recover his status. One suggestion is that he may have undergone some kind of extraordinary life-prolongation therapy, but it’s a therapy which, in healing his body, has also healed up all the scars that constitute memory, or a least a lot of them. So there’s a kind of tradeoff that seems to have happened. After a while, he wants to recover his life, his engagement with the world. He seems to seek out all the attachments of life that make life so painful.
Is it purgatorial? Dantean?
That’s another interpretation of it that I think is legitimate, too.
Why the sonnet sequence?
It’s very important for the story and the ideas in the story that the issue of exactly how the wayfarer got the way he is be indeterminate. Now the neat thing about a sonnet sequence is that the story is told in a kind of – for instance, Shakespeare’s sonnets clearly tell a story, so do Philip Sidney’s, Astrophil and Stella, but they tell it in a way that is holographic. You get little vague bits of the whole story in each sonnet. But it’s not an event and then another event. There may very well be plotting within it that can be inferred but in a sense they’re all describing a single state which is the state of a relationship which has gone through some very complicated developments and even repetitions. Just to complete that thought. At least the first several sonnets are about a state of being – in fact, really, a state of almost paradisal being. It’s almost more like a period of one’s life that one remembers, and you don’t remember which thing happened first. ‘We would always go down to the river at that time. That was the time when the ice cream van came around”’– an evocation of a state. Then it begins to turn into something else. It actually begins to have a plot.
Why Shakespearean sonnets rather than Petrarchan?
The Shakespearean sonnet always feels to me as though it’s part of a journey. The couplet at the end puts a temporary end to the continuous driving on of the a-b-a-b kind of rhyme scheme. It’s got a propulsive feel to it – the couplet sort of temporarily brings it to a halt but there’s always the feel that there’s another one coming. The next sonnet takes up the previous one or refers to it in some way. In the Petrarchan sonnet, the rhymes close in on themselves. It closes itself into itself and stops, and the Shakespearean sonnet goes propulsively onward.
Are there affinities to the Wayfarer that occur to you?
I’ve been thinking quite a lot about this whole new demographic that we’ve got in the world, which is of vast populations in the more technologically advanced societies and stable societies of people who are healthy and over 60, over 70. In a sense, that world view – especially when it’s no longer exceptional, when it’s the world view of a whole cohort of humanity – has never really been explored. There have been old people in poetry before, but usually they are exceptions, and they come along with disabilities.
I was also thinking about certain movies like The Sixth Sense where somebody’s dead but they don’t know it. I was also thinking of Wings of Desire, in which the person who is the angel chooses to become mortal because as the sequence goes on, the wayfarer decides to go back into “the fury and the mire of human veins.” I was thinking of the late Yeats who made the same sort of move: “I must lie down where all the ladders start / In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.”