Read "My Paternal Step-grandmother (the Translator) and Her Grandfather" for perspective.
My great-great-grandfather Klassen was born nearly one-hundred-and-forty-six years ago on March 8th in 1859 on the Island of Chortitza in the Ukraine, and he lived there until 1919, when he and his family began their journey to escape disease and the violence of roving bandits who killed his son, Jakob. His family managed to finally leave for Canada in 1923 and 1924. Great-great-grandfather lived for another nine years, during which time "...his robust frame slowly deteriorated and the last months of his life were spent mostly in bed."* Despite all the illness, death, famine, and the myriad other hardships that were dealt to him throughout his life, he remained a man of strong Christian faith, which he expresses over and over again in his accounting of his days.
I find the faith he expresses hard to swallow. I am at once moved to honour and respect this man as one of my ancestors, but I also find his expression of religious feeling offputting. But this is not the point yet.
The first of his journals begins with this: "On this twenty-fourth of January 1891 I want to begin this diary to record all the noteworthy events that occur on this island, or elsewhere..."** There is something fantastical about stories that begin on islands. Islands hold so much mystery, myth, dream, and fantasy for us; stories about events that take place on islands often embrace the struggle of the individual against great psychological odds. Jung tendered that "...the island is the refuge from the menacing assault of the 'sea' of the unconscious, or, in other words, it is the synthesis of the consciousness and the will..."**, but I would contend that an island is often a metaphor for the mind held away from the main of the world, offering a synthesis of consciousness and unconsciousness, a place where we imagine a collision and melding of realities, a place where the covered is uncovered and discoveries of deeper import can be made.
But again, this is not the point. I meant to say simply that I was hooked by the time I had finished reading his opening sentence. I thought to myself so, we are on an island, and noteworthy things are to follow...
(My tea has grown cold, and what remains in the pot has grown dark and bitter. I always forget to pull out the leaves.)
There is a dream-like quality to the feelings that arise when I am reading great-great-grandfather's diary. It is different than what even the best novel can do. There is something fiction-feeling about it, as the events happened long ago and everyone mentioned is long dead. No one alive now ever looked upon their faces or knew the character of their voices. On the other hand, I am struck by the harsh reality of life then and feel for the immense losses he suffered. I am juggling two sensations, one of the real and one of the surreal, nearly feeling guilt for my distance from the text at one point and then nearly feeling guilt for what feels like rubbernecking over another's private writings. I have opted to view the text with a certain reverence, because this is the only option that makes sense to me. Isn't reverence a mixture of distance and desire in connection with a respected icon, symbol, or idea?
And so, I begin on the Island of Chortitza in the year 1891 when great-great-grandfather Klassen was not quite thirty-two where "...there has been a great deal of frost and frequent snow flurries, so that the trains have been unable to travel numerous days." He is slightly younger than I am now, but his time has aged him. We are not peers.
Never have I worried so much about my approach to a text, but then, never have I held the gift of so much of an ancestor's life in my hands. Rather than read too much at once, I prefer to flounder here for awhile. Why do I fear knowing him?
Masturbate for Peace, because "there's no greater antidote for war than love."
Read Baudrillard's "Simulacra and Simulations".
Barely Tenured does a good blog make.
* All quotes followed by a single asterisk are taken from my paternal grandmother's translation of my great-great-grandfather's diaries.
** Cirlot, J. E. "Island." A Dictionary of Symbols. Trans. Jack Sage. Great Britain: Routledge, 1995. 160.