30 November 2017

Notes on Ferrante's The Days of Abandonment

An absence of sense: I’ve seen it and experienced it myself three times in my life. My father divorced twice. The first time, it was my mother who had the absence of sense, and I think she’s been trying to regain it ever since. The second time, my father experienced the absence of sense which precipitated the divorce; my step-mother could see it, could see everything, but he was and probably still remains blind to it, trapped in the new fantasy of his third marriage. So as a child, I can relate to Gianni or Ilaria, who experience the absence of sense second-hand, who become subject to it in weird and unexpected ways. I am struck particularly by the scene of them hiding inside the old cannon, on cardboard which, as Olga says, “had made a bed for some immigrant.” There is this implication that the children have become migrant with her, or despite her; that through this change of state from marriage to separation they have been uprooted in some way and made inexplicably to lie in immigrant dwellings. I think also of the new door, how the door is necessary to keep something out, but also becomes the thing which entraps them in this home that seems at once familiar and foreign to Olga, which contains within it madness, sickness, and death. For things to be restored, there must be an intervention, which they make from inside to out by breaking Carrano’s balcony window, and which Carrano makes from the outside in through apparently his mere presence.

The third time, I experienced an absence of sense myself. I was married to a childhood friend who became disillusioned with our marriage. She, too, sought the comforts of someone else and hid her affairs from me. We still went on dates, took trips, slept together. After a long trip to Europe, the faucet of her misdeeds (as I label them, having been hurt by them) began to drip. Over the course of months, everything was up in the air. I experienced my own absence of sense. Everything could be fixed and nothing could be done all at the same time. I felt like a stranger in my own house. My then-wife once accused me of acting as though she had died. To me, she had. I was in mourning. She eventually left in September, though we tried marriage counselling and still paid the rent together. I left the apartment in January. I didn’t have enough sense to deal with paying bills anymore, to deal with the particulars of our separation and eventual divorce. I barely had enough sense to keep my career going. I am grateful we didn’t have children or even pets. I was able to keep as much of my absence of sense to myself as I could. Yet, in Olga I see it all: delusions which talked me through small problems, the forgetting of mundane importances, an uncharacteristic sexual encounter, even the real problem of fighting ants in your home (which I would have sworn was driving me crazy in and of itself). To see Olga emerge with her sense, with herself, with her strength gives me hope that, perhaps one day, if not already, I will also emerge from my absence of sense, through a regular dosage of “a tisane of normality and repose.”

Elena Ferrante, The Days of Abandonment, translated by Ann Goldstein. New York: Europa Editions, 2005.