Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Fatalism: Good or Bad or Inevitable

I really didn’t know what to think of Lyn Hejinian's The Fatalist for the first twenty-five pages until I read an essay explaining how the language in the book was literally taken from a year’s worth of Hejinian’s correspondences (emails included). The idea of someone looking at a year of their life and watching the stream--how things came to be--which events lead to other events, is really intriguing. Every once in a while, I look through a decade-worth of Facebook pictures. Don't we all?

The definition of fatalism is “the belief that all events are predetermined and therefore inevitable.” According to the dictionary, the end result of a belief in fatalism is “a submissive attitude to events.” This attitude could be interpreted as either positive or negative (or I suppose both). A negative reaction would say there is nothing you can do to change the trajectory of your life, which is kind of scary. For someone who’s dealt with hip pain and surgery and all that comes with that for the past two years, the idea that none of it will make a difference, the idea that “I was always meant to have hip problems,” is terrifying. But a more positive view reminds me of a line in Kathleen Graber’s book of poems The Eternal City, which says, “Tell yourself it's simple: this is where it's been heading all along. Tell yourself something you have no faith in has already begun to occur." Like, I have faith that my hips are getting better. All the pain and worry and anxiety has been leading to this moment of faith, where I finally believe that “I was always meant to be healed.”

I don’t understand the outcome of studying Lyn Hejinian’s year of correspondence. It’s hard for me to place myself into someone else’s head, especially when words and phrases have been deleted. Who was she talking to, for example, when she wrote, “The children now admit they are violent” (Hejinian, 29). But the language is striking and beautiful-- “prose is not necessarily not poetry” ("Barbarism," Hejinian, 323).

But the experience of reading this book has caused me to reflect on my own experience. And without having known Hejinian’s premise--the year’s email correspondence--I could not have come away with the same sense of meaningfulness. To relay what I mean, I offer an example. At one point in the year, Hejinian happened to write a line about destiny. Not just a “this is where we ended up” kind of destiny, but a reflective thought about journey and the unknown. And then later, for at least one of her readers (me!), that line would become the crux of the book the writer didn’t know she was writing:

“Perhaps the trip
will be purposeless. Destiny is simply a good excuse for experience.”

How does one not come away with a sense of Oh.

(Image taken from

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