On Ghosts and Memories

Quarterly Volume I || Fall 2022

Chers amis de L’Esprit, Bienvenue à our inaugural quarterly! We are so excited to send this out to all of you, and share the latest goings on of the journal. In this quarterly we are featuring a look back at our reading for Issue One, information on calls for submissions, updates on a few recent publications, announcements of year-end awards, and an Editorial Meditation by Associate Editor Jessica Denzer. But we start, in the tradition of Eliot’s Criterion, with A Commentary.

A Commentary
Today marks Armistice Day, 104 years since the cessation of fighting on the Western Front. The First World War, among the most cataclysmic and shocking events in human history, left profound scars on the society it left behind. The Modernist movement—in literature and beyond—and the works it produced represent an emergence of this convulsion into a radically different method of artistic expression and investigation. The scope and breadth of the disaster can be seen in the sheer revolutionary scale of Modernist art; one does not need a history degree to appreciate in some way the impact of the First World War; one needs simply to read Charles Dickens followed by Virginia Woolf.

Woolf was perhaps the writer most impacted by the war; surely it is her work that, at least among the novelists, comments the most directly upon it. The striking of Big Ben that rhythmically punctuates Mrs. Dalloway recalls to mind the apocalyptic artillery barrages of The Somme and Ypres; the ghostly interlude of To The Lighthouse is a silent reflection on the price demanded by war; the narrative vacuum that forms the core of Jacob’s Room is an elegiac lament to the dead; an aspirational portrait of the sunlit English uplands is one of Woolf’s most arresting moments towards the end of The Years. Then, of course, there is Septimus Smith, the most tragic of Woolf’s characters, who embodies the terrible burden of survival.

Due more perhaps to their vastly different temperaments than anything, the artistic response of James Joyce (born, in one of the cosmos’ more amusing divertissements, a week and a day after Woolf) to the war is one markedly different, but present nonetheless. The sheer hyper-mania of Ulysses, a book which, among one or two other accomplishments, makes brilliant use of juxtaposition and mock heroism in ridiculing the serious and immortalizing the rote, reflects the absurdity of war and the fanaticism with which it was waged. Its polyglot polysemy offers an especially sharp challenge to the rise of nationalism and the wave of jingoism that helped to herd the European powers to the edge of the abyss.

And on it goes. T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, sharing with Clarissa Dalloway and Leopold Bloom its centenary this year, is the locus classicus within a rich library of poetic responses to and engagements with the Great War and its aftermath. The vehement, nearly violent nature of the revolutionary departure from Victorian-Edwardian literature that defines Modernism, the urgency with which it seeks to capture the inner life, those falling atoms of mind and memory, illustrates with lasting clarity the severity of the wound. It is this weight, this depth of feeling running through Modernist literature, which gives the work its solemnity. The technique, the shock of the language and style, is, in the best of Woolf, Joyce, and Eliot, doubtless a sublime artistic achievement, but it is the genesis of the movement itself that has so long endured.

A year ago, I toured the memorials and battlefields of Verdun, in eastern France, the site of one of the war’s most decisive and costly engagements. There is a specter that lingers over the rolling fields and picturesque French countryside, a Shakespearean haunting that, like the ghost of Banquo, is nearly tangible to those in whom resides the unspeakable truth. But speak it we must. Three-quarters of a million soldiers were casualties at Verdun; 40 million is the number given as an estimate for the war entire. It is the memory that remains, on the fields and in the museums, yes, but also in paintings and poetry, in philosophy and in literature—in the way the world attempted to move on, to repair through art that which had been torn asunder by man, to wrest from the darkness a new source of light.

D. W. White, 11 November 2022

Issue One
Thank you again to everyone who came out to the reading launch of Issue One last month! It was a great event, and we’re looking forward to doing it again for Issue Two. Read all the stories from our first full release here.

Special thanks to Hannah and everyone at The Militant Grammarian for joining us and sharing some of their work. Check out their latest published work here.

We will be rolling out clips from the recording on social over the coming weeks, so keep an eye on our Twitter and Instagram!

Call for Submissions–En Double!
L’Esprit is seeking submissions for two upcoming features. In early February, we will be marking the 141st birthdays of Virginia Woolf (January 25) and James Joyce (February 2) with a commemorative release. We would like to publish work celebrating, inspired by, or in some way engaging with these two artists and their writing.

Additionally, we are open for General Submissions for Issue Two, forthcoming in April. This will be our second regular issue, and we are looking for consciousness-forward fiction, creative non-fiction, critical essays, and novel extracts. We are especially interested in seeing more critical work! We’re also excited to announce that L’Esprit is now open for writing in transition. See our Submission Guidelines for further details.

Publication Announcements
L’Esprit is very happy to share a few recent publications from past contributors:

G. M. Monks’ story “The Rohr Shocke Test for Writers” in The Militant Grammarian

Ea Anderson’s story “Cruising” in Trampest

Katie-Rose Goto-Švić’s story “Marlene” in Grande Dame Literary

Kent Kosack’s story “Room Twelve” in 3:AM

Katherine Strange’s Substack has just launched

And two recent essays from Editor D. W. White, on Renata Adler for Another Chicago Magazine and Virginia Woolf for A Thin Slice of Anxiety.

Félicitations à tous!

Year-End Award Nominations
With great pride does L’Esprit announce our year-end award nominations. 

For the Best American Short Stories:
Eva Ate One Too ManyKatie-Rose Goto-Švić
St. Frances Fed the Animals, Susan Demarest
Nothing to Prescribe HappinessRachel Léon
Buck Mulligan Meets Mrs. Dalloway, G. M. Monks
LemonsJune Caldwell

For the Pushcart Prize:
Six Months Living in a Flat in an Up-and-Coming Neighbourhood, Ea Anderson
DucklingMarian Mitchell Donahue
but all is to be daredJessica Denzer
After StephenT.D. Oren
Cuticles, Calla Preece
NaustalgiaKatharine Strange
Congratulations, and thank you to all our excellent contributors!

Editorial Meditation
To conclude our first Quarterly, we have an Editorial Meditation from Associate Editor Jessica Denzer, on memory, grief, art, and what is left behind.

Haunted by the Book: On the Grief of Writer’s Block 

In her preface to Grief Lessons, Anne Carson’s translation of four plays by Euripides, Carson asks, “Why does tragedy exist?” She answers (of course; if Carson knows anything, she knows that if you ask a question, you must answer it. Akin, I suppose, to Chekov’s gun). “Because you are full of rage,” she writes, “Why are you full of rage? Because you are full of grief.” I’ve been thinking a lot about grief lately. Well, if I’m being honest, I’ve been thinking about grief now for several years. I wrote a novel full of it, its reality in me, its rage pouring easily out of my heart into metaphors and fictional structures that I could imbue and embed the secrets of my own pain so that it might be masked, even slightly, on the page. It was a love affair with feeling; a quick and full obsession, one that still fills me both with pride and dread.

I’m now writing a second novel, one that deals more directly and upfront with grief. In plain language I am writing about friendship and death, about suicide, heartbreak, tragedy. My characters are more like myself and the world I inhabit than any other fiction I have written. The main character is stolen from my very own soul, and the other characters and events resemble my direct spheres more concretely than I would like to admit. It is perhaps the best writing I have ever done, but it comes out painfully slow, like something being forced out from hiding, an arm here, a leg there, and I am pulling with all the power of the gods. But still, the story only emerges in thin strands, like the rubbery almost hardened glue whose bottle we turn upside down in hopes that a small bit of liquid might reach the orange nozzle. To put it simply, the book is not easy, nor is it an obsession. I do not love it. Still, it does not leave me, the grief of it, the ghost of it. The gnawing life it has inside the reflective world of my laptop, the cloud it sits on in its digital universe whispers like a spirit, telling me of unfinished business

Like me, the main character is a writer who has had difficulty publishing her first large project, and who avoids the second like the plague. She refers to the living project as “an unhappy marriage, a burdened thing that she could not release simply because the spark, however dull, remained at the center of the book, somewhere under the ash of edits.” This image is fitting for Anna, whose heart is driven by pathos but whose mind clings tightly to the rational world of academia. Like me, she has lost her closest friend to suicide, like me she finds herself in the in-between of pain, the moment after the wound has healed around the knife. Like me, she is beginning to forget the initial confusions: that windy cocktail of rage, violence, and weakness; the breaking of things; the need to be satiated; a lustful desire for validation – to feel both seen and unseen, to disappear, to be consumed.

At the start of the novel, Anna is no longer in the throes of it all. She has crossed the line into a saner and more stable place. She is, for all social intents and purposes “well”, but she is not well. She has found herself in the bog, and like Brontë’s Heathcliff, she wanders in an uncomfortable but natural haze. The small Connecticut town she has sought refuge in is both normal and eerie, perfect and slightly off. There is something wrong with her, yes, but there is also something wrong with the world. She is not trapped; there is no paralysis that so much talk on writer’s block suggests. She is not stuck, she is haunted. The book haunts her.

But what are ghosts? I teach a college class on horror in literature every other semester. We tend to focus on monsters and murderers, physical manifestations of evil. Tangible beings, solid things that feel, and eat, and stink. Things that can kill the same way we can kill. These monsters often lack magic or spells, and even when they do have the dark forces behind them, that magic is usually not what delivers the final blow. Instead, it comes with a knife, a fist, a bite. The monster tears into the flesh the same way we tear into flesh. The monster hunts us the same way we hunt deer, the same way we hunt each other. There is nothing too different from us and them, which of course, is the point. Freudian readings of vampires, zombies, and other monstrous creatures suggest a repressed or hidden desire. The monster expresses the want we cannot face, and so becomes a thing to be feared; the thing – our desire – that will kill us if we do not kill it first. We and the monster are reflections of each other. Like Dorian Gray, the creature comes from within, the ugliness is simply the body turned inside out.

But a ghost is not a tangible thing. It is not a solid, physical mass. It is thin, transparent, and at times invisible. Ghosts are not “like” us, they are us, or at least what is left of us when the material and the tangible are shed. When we are not what we used to be. Draped in the thin shreds of the soul, the ghost comes to warn, to teach, to deliver the message. According to most folklore, the apparition appears when there is unfinished business. But what if the ghost has no task? What if this isn’t about business at all, but grief? What if the ghost is simply a reminder, a constant signaling of what has been lost, what will not be gained? Because of death, possibility, the ghost reminds us, is cut off.

Like Anna, I am haunted by the book, and like Anna, I am asking the book what it wants. For her, the ghost appears as a naked woman in the woods, standing bare and exposed in the strange suburb where she is house-sitting. Like Anna, I too stare out the window and wonder quietly if I am losing my mind or if the apparition is real, if it is a Bertha of sorts, a manifestation of my own self somehow escaped from the attic of my own making. Is it desire we are seeking? I think not. The woman in the woods is no monster. Who is she? Unlike Carson, Anna and I have yet to find an answer. I suppose we will keep on writing.

Jessica Denzer

Au Revoir
In our own small way, L’Esprit seeks to help preserve the legacy and significance of Modernist literature by publishing work in its spirit. In this hundred-year celebration of Mrs. Dalloway, Ulysses, and The Waste Land, we have been honored to be able to add our gig lamp to Modernism’s luminous century. It is that which remains that holds that which is lost. There is art, there is memory, and there are the flickering strands of life, ephemeral and entombed. It is by writing, reading, and creating that we feel our way through the future on towards the past.

And so, in that light, a sincere merci beaucoup to everyone who made Issue Zero, ModernDay22, and Issue One possible this year, and à la prochaine.



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