Introduction | Sigrid Rausing | Granta


Sigrid Rausing

Our working title for this issue was Loss, but suddenly loss was all around us, friends and colleagues disappearing, most lately Ian Jack, Granta’s former editor and a dear friend, who died unexpectedly in hospital in October last year. Ian was a profoundly gifted writer and editor, and he had a knack for conversation, too. I tried to commission a piece from him in June last year, but he couldn’t do it, and told me so in the nicest possible way. ‘Dear Ian, I understand,’ I responded. ‘Please don’t worry. Perhaps another theme/another time. I am alright – quite low. Back in Sussex. Is the world coming to an end or was it always like this?’ He responded – characteristically – with an edit of his own previous email, noting that he had described someone as scrupulously ‘keen’ instead of ‘clean’:

Clean, not keen, in the below, though I like the idea of scrupulous enthusiasm. Yes, it’s hard to look properly at the world and not think of it ending. I think that feeling now feeds a lot of human behaviour, whether we know it or not. Young people aren’t fools. Fortunately I live in a cheerful household, which busies itself with the Green Party, reading groups and other good causes, which means the mood of the house isn’t set by me. Praise be!

That was our last exchange.

Not Loss, but Definitive Narratives of Escape, then, words drawn (and reversed) from Roger Reeves’s essay in this issue about how to tell, and how to understand, stories of slavery now. Reeves, a poet and an academic, considers the experience of reading work at a literary event taking place in a plantation house in South Carolina, and the fate of the people who once inhabited the slave cabins next to the lavish house. Photographer Rahim Fortune documents Reeves’s journey, and we have placed some of those images in the text, so that Reeves seems almost to embody the ghosts of the people who once lived there. He notices a child’s fingerprint in a brick and imagines a burnt hand; he sees the bare earth whipped up by eddies of wind and thinks about what escape meant and what it took: ‘And, there in the wind, in the dirt, the memory of the dead moving off into the pines behind the field. There is no definitive narrative to escaping, to freedom. It is – only is.’


This issue begins with Des Fitzgerald’s profound essay, ‘Reproducing Paul’, about the death by suicide of his brother Paul and the birth of his own son, Paulie. In between these two events is the continuous social practice that makes culture. Fitzgerald, who studied anthropology (as I did), understands life as a series of rituals and exchanges, including the rituals that manage the transitions of the dead and the newly born, and the emerging rituals in the fertility clinic. But our rituals, perhaps, are not enough, though one senses from Fitzgerald’s essay that the work of writing may be one of them, not a ritual exactly, but at least a way to organise thoughts and find language for the unsayable. I think of Keats, and the connection he made between beauty and truth. How beautiful it is, Fitzgerald’s angry sadness at his brother’s act, the angry sadness with his child who insists on being carried – not a baby now, but a ‘dead weight’ in his arms, a ‘thick dense child’. The moment resolves into evening – birds calling from rooftops – and a sense of grief emerges, ‘. . . that slight sense of numbing shock, like a bereavement, that you sometimes get at the end of an unexpectedly hot day’. Grief is work, and carrying a child is work, and through the practice of work comes resolution: ‘This is enough, I thought. Paulie, it has to be enough.’

Enough grief. Enough, enough.

‘As surely as the sadness never leaves and that music / heals the night with its deeps and neon’, writes Peter Gizzi in his poem ‘Ecstatic Joy and Its Variants’. The poem ends: ‘and in my outrage, I am immortal / because I love, I am here’.

Still here.


Sigrid Rausing

SIGRID RAUSING is the publisher of Granta magazine and Granta Books. She is the author of History, Memory and Identity in Post-Soviet Estonia (2004), Mayhem (2017), Everything Is Wonderful (2014) and the co-author and translator of And The Walls Became the World All Around Me (2024).

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