Katherine Anne Porter's Introduction to Eudora Welty's stories

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Rosario Soley
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Fri Feb 08, 2019 2:20 pm Post

I recently started reading "A Curtain of Green and Other Stories" and even though I haven't read any of the actual stories yet (I tend to read more than one book at a time, to and fro, according to my mood) but I devoured the introduction Katherine Anne Porter wrote for it in 1941. These are some of the excerpts I wrote down on my notebook because they spoke to me so much. I hope they stirr nice things in you:

Eudora Welty's education was precisely as serious as she chose to make it.

"Why, Eudora, when did you write that?" Not how, or even why, just when. They see her about so much, what time has she for writing? Yet she spends an immense amount of time at it. "I haven't a literary life at all," she wrote once, "not much of a confession, maybe. But I do feel that the people and things I love are of a true and human world."

She need not follow a war and smell death to feel herself alive. She shall not need even to live in New York in order to feel that she is having the kind of experience, the sense of "life" proper to a serious author. She gets her right nourishment from the source natural to her—her experience so far has been quite enough for her and of precisely the right kind.

Nearly all the Southern writers I know were early, omnivorous, insatiable readers, and Miss Welty runs reassuringly true to this pattern.

I believe in the rightness of Miss Welty's instinctive knowledge that writing cannot be taught, but only learned, and learned by the individual in his own way, at his own pace and in his own time, for the process of mastering the medium is part of a cellular growth in a most complex organsim; it is a way of life and a mode of being which cannot be divided from the kind of human creature you were the day you were born, and only in obeying the law of this singular being can the artist know his true directions and the right ends for him.

There is an ancient system of ethics, an unanswerable indispensable moral law, on which she is grounded firmly, and this, it would seem to me, is ample domain enough: these laws have never been the peculiar property of any party or creed or nation, they relate to that true and human world of which the artist is a living part; and when he dissociates himself from it in favor of a set of political, which is to say, inhuman rules, he cuts himself away from his proper society-living men*

I only say that her good gift, just as it is now, alive and flourishing, should not be retarded by a perfectly artificial demand upon her to do the conventional thing.

Its realism seems almost to have the quality of caricature, as complete realism often does.

Let me admit a deeply personal preference for this particular kind of story, where external act and the internal voiceless life of the human imagination almost meet and mingle on the mysterious threshold between dream and waking, one reality refusing to admit or confirm the existence of the other, yet both conspiring toward the same end.

There is no blurring at the edges, but evidences of an active and disciplined imagination working firlmy in a strong line of continuity, the waking faculty of daylight reason recollecting and recording the crazy life of the dream.

Eudora knows each character she writes about as only the artist knows the thing he has made, by first experiencing it in imagination.

(...) of one born to select, to arrange, to bring apparently disparate elements into harmony within deliberately fixed boundaries.

I find nothing false or labored, no diffusion of interest—the approach is direct and simple in method, though the themes and moods are anything but simple, and there is even in the smallest story a sense of power in reserve which makes me believe firmly that, splendid beginning that this is, it is only the beginning.

I love all of those fragments, both in content and form, but the ones in bold format speak especially to me, as I am always looking for possible answers when it comes to authenticity and respecting one's individual way of doing things, whatever it is you're doing. I would love to know what other think of this (especially if I get answers that help me grow in the direction I want to. Watcha gonna do?).

* This parragraph reminded me of these lines that George Steiner wrote in 1980 for The New Yorker, in his article 'The Cleric of Treason':

Nationalism is the venom of modern history. Nothing is more bestially absurd than the readiness of human beings to incinerate or slaughter one another in the name of nationhood and under the infantile spell of a flag. Citizenship is a bilateral arrangement that is, that ought always to be subjet to critical examination and, if need be, abrogation. No city of man is worth a major injustice, a major falsehood (...) It seems to me doubtful whether the human animal will manage to survive if it does not learn to do without frontiers and passports, if it cannot grasp that we are all guests of each other, as we are of this scarred and poisoned earth (...) Trees have roots; men have legs with which to leave after they have, in conscience, said no.

Wonderful words are wonderful.