You, perhaps, knowing I was to fly somewhere this past Sunday, that I was embarking on ten weeks' travel, wondered how I'd ever manage to post on ten more chapters. I was wilfully optimistic and woefully unrealistic.
But even as I adjust to jetlag here in Rome, I'm plotting ways to write a few words about the first ten chapters in the section covering Elena's and Lila's adolescence. As I've been rereading, I've been so aware of how little guidance they had as they experienced the strange and wondrous and often terrifying changes to their bodies and negotiated newly delineated relationships between the genders. Perhaps you might jump in here to help me out as I try to carve a few hours' reading and writing time out of my limited days in Rome (and no, sadly, I don't think I'll try to manage a trip to Naples of the five I have here this trip).
I always welcome your comments here, but they would be particularly welcome now when I've probably bitten off more than I can chew. That said, I promise I will be back soon with an observation or two. Thanks for your understanding and patience meanwhile.
EDITED TO ADD: I wasn't sure of the best way to do this, but if I start a new post, we'll have my thoughts and your comments on these ten chapters in two different places, and I'd prefer to keep them together. Thank you so much for jumping in and getting the conversation started -- more than that, really, as you've opened up most of the important topics this volume introduces.
Now let's see what I can add, and again, I'm sorry, but I will just set out my observations moving chapter by chapter, rather than finding time to organise my points into a more coherent whole Please excuse...
In the first chapter of this section, "The Story of the Shoes," I'm once again drawn to note the narrative style -- The adult Elena is careful to point out that the term "dissolving margins" isn't her own, but one that Lila always used. Besides once again alerting us to her narrative control in this way, she also performs some interesting sleight-of-hand, folding one story inside another. She's describing the end of 1958, New Year's Eve, the beginning of 1959, but it turns out that Elena is reconstructing the evening from Lila's account offered to her "years late. . . in November 1980." But it gets more complicated when we read that Lila first used that term in November 1980, but by the time Elena is writing her narrative, it has become a term that Lila "always used." This telescoping of narratives all happens in the opening paragraph -- rather a virtuoso display, really. And then in the second paragraph of this chapter, the adult Elena again asserts her control, interrupting her reportage to say that she "will explain [Lila's role in the New Year's ritual] later.
There is so much temptation to speculate about what a present-day psychiatrist might make of Lila's condition. My response, instead, is to see the truth in Lila's dissolving margins. I think of what psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan speaks of as one of the stages an infant passes through moving toward subjectivity -- "the body in bits and pieces," not yet perceiving herself as an autonomous, coherent, being. I think of some of what Slavoj Zizek has written about madness, suicide, as reasonable response to a society that demands too high a price for subjectivity within it. I guess I'm wondering if we see Lila's inchoate intuition that the society she's growing into offers only limited subjectivity to women, and at such a cost.
And I think, also, of the novel as bildungsroman, a novel that traditionally offered a narrative of a young person's education, building, toward healthy eventual integration into society. Traditionally, however, the "young person" was male. Much feminist ink has been spilled over the limitations of literature to represent women after they had either married or died, generally still young, and it might be worth thinking about how powerfully Ferrante's novel responds to that limited tradition, tracing women's lives into their seventh decade, and also implicating the society that "builds" them of having made unreasonable demands. Some have used the term misbildungsroman to describe novels that detail the impossibility of being educated and healthily integrated into a society that is both damaged and damaging to its subjects -- Gunter Grass's The Tin Drum is the stand-out example for me. And in some ways, I see the work Ferrante does here in the same vein.
But I'm thinking off the cuff here, throwing out ideas without as much evidence as I would prefer. Perhaps that's okay considering our purposes here. It's significant to me, at any rate, that both of Lila's perceptions concern males who have power over her, and violence (although at that time, she hadn't expected anything but support and kindness from her brother). Also significant that she "had perceived for the first time unknown entities that broke down the outline of the world and demonstrated its terrifying nature." Given all the forces that govern their lives, yet are generally invisible to them, I'm not sure Lila's affliction isn't at least in part an enhanced, and difficult, acuity.
Obviously, there's so much else to discuss in these ten chapters, but rather than hold us all up waiting for me to post while I'm sauntering around Rome in search of the best gelato (not really -- I just keep going back to FataMorgana every day!), I'm going to click "Publish" on this, and add as I can, and I invite you to do the same in the comments below. I'll be back here as soon as possible, adding more on these first ten chapters of this section and moving through the next ten. . .