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Maurice Sendak, King of All Wild Things

Page 6 of 6

Inside and Outside: The Meadow

"There's a theme that apears in much of your work," I say to Maurice on my last visit to Connecticut, "and I can only hint at it because it's difficult to formulate or describe. It has something to do with the lines: 'As I went over the water/The water went over me' [from As I Went over the Water] or 'I'm in the milk and the milk's in me' [from Night Kitchen]."

"Obviously I have one theme, and it's even in the book I'm working on right now. It's not that I have such original ideas, just that I'm good at doing variations on the same idea over and over again. You can't imagine how relieved I was to find out that Henry James admitted he had only a couple of themes and that all of his books were based on them. That's all we need as artists – one power-driven fantasy or obsession, then to be clever enough to do variations... like a series of variations by Mozart. They're so good that you forget they're based on one theme. The same things draw me, the same images..."

"What is this one obsession?"

"I'm not about to tell you – not because it's a secret, but because I can't verbalize it."

"There's a line by Bob Dylan in 'Just like a Woman' which talks about being 'inside the rain."'

"Inside the rain?"

"When it's raining outside," I explain, "I often feel inside myself, as if I were inside the rain... as if the rain were my self. That's the sense I get from Dylan's image and from your books as well."

"It's strange you say that," Maurice answers, "because rain has become one of the most potent images of my new book. It sort of scares me that you mentioned that line. Maybe that's what rain means. It's such an important ingredient in this new work, and I've never understood what it meant. There was a thing about me and rain when I was a child: if I could summon it up in one sentence, I'd be happy to. It's such connected tissue..."

The connecting tissue in the work of Maurice Sendak is the continually experienced awareness of the deepest child-self. "I don't believe, in a way, that the kid I was grew up into me," he once told Nat Hentoff. "He still exists somewhere, in the most graphic, plastic, physical way... I communicate with him – or try to – all the time. One of my worst fears is losing contact with him. I don't want this to sound coy or schizophrenic, but at least once a day I feel I have to make contact. The pleasures I get as an adult are heightened by the fact that I experience them as a child at the same time. Like, when autumn comes, as an adult I welcome the departure of the heat, and simultaneously, as a child would, I start anticipating the snow and the first day it will be possible to use a sled. This dual apperception does break down occasionally. That usually happens when my work is going badly. I get a sour feeling about books in general and my own in particular. The next stage is annoyance at my dependence on this dual apperception, and I reject it. Then I become depressed. When excitement about what I'm working on returns, so does the child. We're on happy terms again."

A little boy once wrote Maurice a letter that read: "How much does it cost to get to where the wild things are? If it is not too expensive my sister and I want to spend the summer there. Please answer soon."

The "wild things" are, of course, the feelings within us, and if we lose contact with them and with our childhood being we become defenders of the Social Lie and the forces of death, as we mouth platitudes about "reverence for life." But life demands us to defend not denatured human beings but rather transformed and transforming boys and girls, men and women. The psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich knew this when he wrote his great visionary oration in Cosmic Superimposition:

"Outside on the meadow, two children in deep embrace would not astonish or shock anyone. Inside on the stage, it would immediately invoke police action. Outside, a child is a child, an infant is an infant, and a mother is a mother, no matter whether in the form of a deer, or a bear, or a human being. Inside, an infant is not an infant if its mother cannot show a marriage certificate. Outside, to know the stars is to know God, and to meditate about God is to meditate about the heavens. Inside, somehow, if you believe in God, you do not understand or you refuse to understand the stars. Outside, if you search in the heavens, you refuse, and rightly so, to believe in the sinfulness of the natural embrace. Outside, you feel your blood surging and you do not doubt that something is moving in you, a thing you call your emotion, with its location undoubtedly in the middle of your body and close to your heart."

Related
Dave Eggers' Monster Project: Behind 'The Wild Things'
Review: 'Where The Wild Things Are'

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