An Argument for Literature as Care Work

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Over the past year, a phrase has kept returning to my mind: “What is beautiful is seized.” This refrain, repeated throughout Lorrie Moore’s story “What Is Seized” by the narrator’s dying mother, is a sentence of wreckages. What she means is twofold: that beautiful things are stolen, snatched up, like the expensive, brightly-colored paint from her former husband’s amateur dramatic society, but also that, without care, beautiful things have the tendency to calcify and become frozen. Like life. Like love.
“What is beautiful is seized” is not a sentence bereft of care. In just five words, the palindromic meter (1, 1, 3, 1, 1) becomes philosophy. Its revelatory structure, too (what is beautiful is seized), echoes the way the story is structured around a series of revelations about care. Moore contrasts small acts of care—the daughter’s fine attention to the details of her mother’s old photographs, or the way she combs her mother’s hair and shaves her legs for her—with the lack of care her father had for her mother. “He felt nothing. No compassion,” the mother tells her daughter. “You would think creating something would necessarily be an act of love or compassion.” ....


  • care
  • Lorrie Moore
  • care crisis
  • affect
  • care work

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