Maria Tu­markin Brow Books; $34.95

The Monthly (Australia) - - CONTENTS - noted by Helen El­liott

“Ax­iomatic” comes from the Greek ax­ioma, mean­ing “that which is thought to fit”. It first ap­peared in English dur­ing the 18th cen­tury, the cen­tury of Rea­son and En­light­en­ment. Use of the word in our cen­tury – of ram­pant sen­ti­men­tal­ity and un­rea­son – has de­clined, but it still serves for some­thing be­ing self-ev­i­dent. The idea of self-ev­i­dence desta­bilises Maria Tu­markin, so she writes her way through it. Writes? Too loose a term for what Tu­markin is do­ing in th­ese es­says. You must be both ruth­less and cre­ative to ex­ca­vate pur­pose be­hind the lan­guage the way she does. She strides (some­times blasts) through the psy­cho­log­i­cal land­scape, pick­ing up ev­ery de­tail, thought and per­son that catches her eye, ex­am­in­ing them, turn­ing them over in her hands to fig­ure out what she is look­ing at. If she has any suc­cess in this ar­du­ous busi­ness, if a scrap of light flick­ers back at her, there will have been an ex­change. Her un­der­stand­ing will have ex­panded. And she will feel obliged to pass what­ever it is she has learnt to you, the reader. It is brac­ing. Brac­ing can also be ex­haust­ing, so take th­ese es­says in small sips. Or gulps. And you’ll need a clear head be­cause Tu­markin is ar­gu­men­ta­tive. Her own mind is a panoramic demon­stra­tion of di­alec­ti­cal think­ing. If the ba­sic philo­soph­i­cal ques­tion is “How are we to live?”, Tu­markin fil­ters out a sub-ques­tion: How are we to live af­ter trauma? And there are de­grees of trauma. When the soul of a child has been so trau­ma­tised, how does that child be­come a func­tion­ing adult? And what is “func­tion­ing”? Or even “adult”? Tu­markin is fan­tas­ti­cally in­ter­ested in her own child­hood back in Ukraine – she came to Aus­tralia when she was 15 – but equally in­ter­ested in the lives and ex­pe­ri­ences of oth­ers. They in­clude her friend Vera, one of “the adults made as chil­dren to wit­ness and en­dure things mon­strous, in­tol­er­a­ble”. Vera refers to her­self as an “un­re­solved walk­ing trauma”. Try to de­scribe that. So Tu­markin tries. Tu­markin is search­ing for words to give mean­ing – not rea­son – a start­ing place. If we know what some hu­mans can do to oth­ers, how is it pos­si­ble to be sanely hu­man our­selves? She makes the ter­ri­ble point that there could be a time when, in our de­sire for light­ness and plea­sure, for the fairy­tale end­ing to ab­so­lutely ev­ery­thing, the word “Holo­caust” will be for­got­ten. Wil­ful for­get­ting is eas­ier than wil­ful re­mem­ber­ing. Ax­iomatic is a se­ries of open-ended es­says about dif­fer­ent peo­ple, as well as Tu­markin’s own in­tense ex­pe­ri­ences of love and friend­ship. Con­sol­ing pieties do not in­ter­est her. There is no res­o­lu­tion, no com­fort. It is a bleak view of the world, but for many peo­ple, in­clud­ing Tu­markin’s friend Vera, “That’s how it goes.” This hap­pened. That hap­pened. I am here. You are here. Lucky for us Tu­markin is here, too. Try­ing.

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