Seán Hewitt Unpacks His Gothic Memoir about Intercourse, Disgrace and Queerness
Seán Hewitt’s memoir All Down Darkness Broad is full of ghosts. Possessed from the opening few pages with the lingering phantom of the previous, it’s a e book that isn’t solely preoccupied with Hewitt’s personal narrative but additionally the lives, tales and spectres of shared histories that form us into who we would grow to be – as he writes within the opening few pages, “The whole lot, when you begin to look, is haunted.”
Ghosts additionally stalked the pages of Hewitt’s debut poetry assortment, the Laurel Prize-winning and critically acclaimed Tongues of Hearth. Revealed in 2020, it’s a charged and achieved meditation on nature, grief, intercourse and disgrace, themes that equally pour from the pages of All Down Darkness Broad. The memoir’s narrative core is worried with Hewitt’s relationship with Elias, a Swedish man he meets whereas travelling after college and whom he shortly falls in love with. After residing for a quick interval within the UK, the couple to migrate to Gothenburg, the place their romantic bliss is punctured. In devastating and heart-wrenching element, Hewitt recounts Elias’s spiral right into a suicidal melancholy that leaves him hospitalised and their relationship unravelling.
Hewitt – who lives in Eire the place he works as a literary critic and as a lecturer at Trinity School Dublin – brings his appreciable skills as a poet to All Down Darkness Broad, which is full of vivid, magnetic and deeply affecting prose. Eschewing conversational accessibility and trendy observational relatability, Hewitt’s treats language, each in what is claimed and unsaid, as transcendent, full of energy but additionally the power to fail us.
That is evident within the memoir’s narrative threads, particularly Hewitt’s preoccupation with the lifetime of Gerard Manley Hopkins, a Victorian-era Jesuit priest and poet who struggled along with his sexuality and who acts as one thing of a temporal information all through. By means of Hopkins, in addition to different ghosts from his personal previous and the inherited sense of disgrace, loneliness, prejudice and trauma skilled by some queer folks, Hewitt explores what it means to be a homosexual man and what it would take for queer folks to find themselves.
Under, Hewitt talks to AnOther concerning the type of memoir, queer lineages and reclaiming disgrace whereas writing about intercourse.
Alim Kheraj: Why was memoir the proper format for All Down Darkness Broad?
Seán Hewitt: I needed it to be a memoir primarily as a result of it’s actual and it’s true. I additionally realised whereas I used to be writing the memoir simply how prevalent the theme of mendacity was in my very own life, whether or not that was mendacity earlier than I got here out or persevering with to lie in sure methods afterwards as a approach of defending myself or to create sure fictions. Writing a memoir appeared like the right antidote to that as a result of it’s a truth-telling train.
However there was solely thus far that I might take that, so I additionally needed to inform different types of fact that led me to bend, I feel, what the memoir is or could possibly be. I didn’t need to undertake the tone of goal storytelling, narrated historical past or a linear tone so I borrowed from what I feel the novel is nice at, which is environment and, primarily, a approach through which the psychology of a personality merges out into the atmosphere. So in a approach, I adopted the gothic novel because the type of the memoir and I type of see it as a gothic memoir: it straddles the hole between the psychological fact of the novel and the way in which the thoughts creates fictions with the real-life narrative of memoir.
AK: Are you able to be absolute in fact whereas writing a memoir?
SH: Basically, there are particular formal issues that require you to bend fact, that is perhaps simply because life is boring in its linearity or it is perhaps as a result of there are particular ranges of element in actuality which might be too onerous or pointless to carry in a e book. However even in making a story, you’re bending the reality to suit the shape. There’s a freedom in that, although, as a result of for those who begin to push into the modes of fiction, you’ll be able to then introduce, as I’ve, ghost figures and non-linear time. Additionally, while you’re writing about psychological trauma, the thoughts begins to work in methods that aren’t completely mounted to goal actuality. To make a house within the memoir for subjective ghosts, figments of creativeness and actions again in time gave the impression to be nearer to actuality, the one that’s truly skilled relatively than the detailed objectivity of life.
“RuPaul may speak about selecting your personal household, however I feel selecting our personal imagined spectral ancestors is a extremely necessary approach of connecting to our personal historical past” – Seán Hewitt
AK: You point out ghosts. How did the amalgamation of your personal life and Hopkins’ come to be?
SH: I started scripting this e book with the very first scene that you’ve got within the e book, which is within the graveyard, and my unique thought was that I might meet the ghost of Hopkins on this graveyard, in Liverpool the place he used to dwell. What I had needed to do with that was to attach this kind of chosen household of ghosts, these ancestral figures that all of us may select for ourselves who act as a kind of steering or comfort, however who additionally problem us as we undergo life. There’s a way of being entrapped by the tales of those ghostly figures and desirous to launch your self from that type of cyclical narrative of historical past but additionally desirous to acknowledge the worth of them.
I selected Hopkins as a result of he’s somebody that I’ve all the time beloved. I didn’t discover out he was queer till a lot later in my affair with him. It appeared in a fairly uncanny approach that we have been related not solely geographically – I used to be raised simply outdoors of Liverpool and moved to Dublin like he did – however thematically. My life has walked in his footsteps.
AK: Was there one thing particular about him that you simply have been drawn to?
SH: I discovered notably attention-grabbing the methods through which he bends his thought to accommodate each poetry and this actually strict spiritual environment. However the one factor that he couldn’t bend was his sexuality and that’s why it turns into actually crippling for him. In that approach, that’s type of the warning that Hopkins offers you: he exhibits that you simply your self can’t change so it’s important to change the exterior circumstances. He didn’t change the exterior circumstances and it led him to a extremely onerous life.
AK: You talked about this concept of the cyclical nature of historical past and patterns in life, and within the e book, there’s this wider sense of queer inheritance. When did you first perceive that you simply have been a part of a queer lineage?
SH: Within the e book, I speak about giving blood as one of many first instances that I realised it. There’s this concept of your blood being a bodily provider of different issues and different folks that may probably betray you and your connections to different folks. While you’re doing one thing as quotidian and maybe embarrassing as getting an STI check, it’s important to mark down all your interactions with different folks and it turns into very clear that you don’t personal this blood in your physique. It’s one thing that’s related to different folks in a approach that’s not inherited biologically.
That led me to consider what else we inherit from folks that isn’t organic. I say in direction of the start of the e book, ‘I realised my historical past was not my very own’. That could possibly be a debilitating realisation, however there’s additionally one thing extremely liberating about it as nicely in that it reaches out into neighborhood and also you realise that, essentially, the memoir can’t simply be a historical past of you since you don’t produce your self. And in order that turns into one of many key questions of the e book: what outdoors myself shaped me?
AK: It jogged my memory of one thing a professor at college informed me that Allen Ginsberg would say to folks he would sleep with. He would inform males that they have been inheriting a poetic lineage when he got here as a result of he had slept with somebody who had slept with somebody who had slept with Walt Whitman.
SH: It’s a really queer mind-set since you’re not pondering by way of inheritance from mother and father. We’re pondering of inheritance from a neighborhood of individuals. One factor that queer folks usually miss is that this likeness to their mother and father and so it’s solely pure that individuals go in search of this household of inheritance that doesn’t comply with organic strains. Tradition works in that approach as a result of we inherit concepts in a non-biological approach. RuPaul may speak about selecting your personal household, however I feel selecting our personal imagined spectral ancestors is a extremely necessary approach of connecting to our personal historical past.
“There’s terrifying intercourse, there’s intercourse as an expression of affection or intercourse in a loving relationship, there’s intercourse that’s exploratory, and intercourse that’s, I feel, multifaceted” – Seán Hewitt
AK: One factor you keep away from doing within the memoir is writing didactically or causally concerning the hyperlinks between lived experiences and psychological sickness. How did you make sense or order of these themes?
SH: One factor I actually struggled with whereas writing the memoir was that there doesn’t appear to be any clear or helpful language for psychological well being. It’s a troublesome factor to adequately put into phrases, which is likely one of the major issues of it. The minute you write the phrase ‘melancholy’ it loses a few of its intent or which means. The phrases themselves appeared flimsy, or at the least overused, and don’t adequately seize the expertise. That’s notably troublesome with psychological well being as a result of speaking remedy will be actually necessary. However the concept of getting to place your self into language is likely one of the key obstacles to with the ability to repair or acknowledge the problems you could have. So in some methods I needed to go away it unknowable.
AK: The memoir offers with some troublesome durations in your life. What was it like revising these moments?
SH: It’s a dangerous enterprise as a result of the closest analogy I might give to you was that it’s like doing unsupervised remedy. It’s a must to inhabit these experiences, maybe for months on finish. And it’s important to stand up within the morning and say, ‘Proper, I’m gonna write this terrible scene and I’m gonna must dwell in it. And I’m gonna have to recollect as a lot element about it as potential so as to make it really feel actual and alive and pressing to the reader.’ We simply don’t try this in each day life. We’d bear in mind sure issues, however we don’t situate ourselves again on the deathbed of our father persistently for months at a time.
AK: Did it really feel cathartic?
SH: No. I couldn’t truly say that I really feel higher having written the e book. I really feel like my life is extra current to me after having learn the e book, however it makes the whole lot that was sediment float up once more.
AK: A buddy of mine described the memoir as ‘so unhappy, so attractive’, and intercourse is usually tied up with embarrassment or a necessity for absolution afterwards. There’s by no means a grand reclamation of intercourse, both. What do you assume that claims concerning the relationship between intercourse, want and queerness?
SH: I feel the rationale that I went again to the teenage years so closely on this e book was as a result of that was a time when all three of these issues – intercourse, want and queerness – grow to be very conflicting and secretive in that quite a lot of us really feel like we now have no mannequin for want. Straight folks have this sense of communal want, however for queer folks at that age, our want isn’t shared. I feel that loneliness in our wishes can usually result in these types of disgrace and embarrassment in intercourse. However what I needed to do within the e book was present you instances at which intercourse means very various things. There’s terrifying intercourse, there’s intercourse as an expression of affection or intercourse in a loving relationship, there’s intercourse that’s exploratory, and intercourse that’s, I feel, multifaceted.
AK: Does writing about intercourse enable you go acquire management over it?
SH: Writing about intercourse lets you take away the disgrace from it. I used to be capable of neuter the disgrace from numerous sexual encounters that I did really feel ashamed about. And to deliver it again to why I needed it to be a memoir; I needed the revelation to excise the disgrace from the conditions. A few weeks in the past I used to be feeling fairly anxious concerning the e book, however at some point I awakened and realised that I wasn’t ashamed of it. Even simply realising that to myself was a really empowering factor.
All Down Darkness Broad by Seán Hewitt is revealed by Jonathan Cape, and is out now.