Rachel Cusk questions everything | The New Republic
In the strongest trials of Coventry, Cusk often overturns the assumptions she started with. In “Coventry”, she recounts times in her life when her parents punished her by sending her “to Coventry”, which means giving someone the silent treatment. At first, Cusk argues that his parents’ actions signified “their inability to control history, their inability to control me”; the next paragraph starts with “But maybe it’s not like that at all.” Meanderingly, through considerations of childhood, motherhood and marriage, she comes to see that Coventry is “a place where the worst has already happened” and is therefore peaceful – a site with potential for rebuilding. .
While her initial approach to conflict is to treat it as a battlefield, she eventually comes to see all relationships as stories that can be deconstructed to show the truth. An essay on Brexit, grievances and blame, “On the rudenessanalyzes the individual and political implications of a disagreement between Cusk and an airport worker, who yells at and harasses travelers at passport control:
There’s no need to be rude, I say.
His head is spinning.
You’re rude, he replies. It is you who is rude.
In later recounting her encounter with this angry worker, Cusk knows she believes he is wrong, not only for being rude, but for depicting the “discrimination and bullying” that “is being used against people. who try to enter Great Britain, my country”. Yet she finds herself “drawing on the details of the man’s physical ugliness to prove the wickedness of his character”; she can’t actually prove that he was rude to anyone (except her, after scolding him, perhaps quite rudely herself). Faced with the obvious disconnect between their interpretations of the situation, Cusk analyzes her position, as well as the damage she caused to her own “narrative authority” by framing the interaction the way she did. He is “someone who has no significant authority while being forced into constant interaction with audience members, someone for whom the operation of the character is both nothing and everything”; another employee she meets is almost driven mad by her “combination of power and helplessness”. This shifting measure resembles the unstable relationship that Cusk describes between parent and child (adult), in which the question of who is really in power becomes uncomfortably unanswered.
At the end of the essay, Cusk has a minor identity crisis that represents how muddled all of these seemingly simple power dynamics — parent and child, author and reader, well-educated liberal and working-class Brexiteer — are: !’ My girls would beg me when they were younger and one would do something the other didn’t like. They wanted Cusk to tell them who was right and who was wrong, but she always found “fairness” impossible in the face of two stories she couldn’t merge into one truth. “I’m proud of my willingness to stand up to injustice, to speak my mind when I think I’ve seen harm done,” she continues, referring to her righteous interaction with the airport worker. “But maybe all I was doing was trying to stop it, trying to bring the world back to something I could bear to live in, without necessarily understanding it first.” What may seem like a position on both sides shows its political side: the instability of power relations means that you have to understand and describe things as they are, otherwise the worst can happen and you will have to rebuild.