Fragmentary Writing and Polyphonic Narrative
From B.S. Johnson’s House Mother Normal (1971) to the more recent The Absent Therapist by Will Eaves (2014), contemporary fragmentary novels have been trying to embrace what Mikhail Bakhtin has called heteroglossia and combine several voices, instead of a single authoritative discourse. Moreover, metafictional variations on the polyphonic novel, such as Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves (2000), have radically broken ontological narrative frames. As a result, the distinctions between writer and reader, and between author and character, become feeble to the point that memories, voices and identities start to blend. When such a process occurs, the fragments cannot be reassembled anymore or assigned to a particular narrative distinct from the other ones, so as to recompose different linear threads. The reader is asked to accept this impossibility to sort out the voices, to unravel the identities and the memories, even when the narrative becomes paradoxical and uncanny.
The presence of different voices in the pages also leads to a rethinking of the typographical space. Inhabited by many voices, books cannot be linear anymore: their pages are thus restructured. Polyphonic novels display an array of typographical techniques which reshape the page: proliferating footnotes, scribblings in the margins, side-by-side columns of text, different typefaces or colors, physical modifications or erasures of text and so on. The plurality of voices seems to be closely tied to fragmentation and non-linearity, to typographical experimentation and to a “spatial turn,” also explicitly conveyed by the insistence on architectonic figures and metaphors such as the “house” (House of Leaves being a typical example of such spatial thinking in fragmented non-linear fiction).
Tweets: Hundred-and-Forty-Word Fragments to (De)construct in Richard Powers’s Orfeo
Orfeo, the latest novel by contemporary American novelist Richard Powers is about a retired man, Peter Els, who is a convicted bioterrorist. Former musician and composer, he sets up his own home lab to carry out his project: to insert music into a cell. One night, he calls 911 following his dog Fidelio’s sudden death. An official enquiry follows because his hobby poses a threat to national security. Out of panic he flees and begins to send tweets, an activity that goes on until the moment the novel closes. My point is to show how the use of tweets as fragments is a way to explore a new form of writing: the way they are laid out on the page, how they are organized is made to lead to a non-linear form. But more than that, the fragmentary structure turns out to be a new form of collage and reminiscent of the contrapuntal technique in music. I will first analyse how the tweets appear in the body of the text. Parentheses materialised by a specific font and by lines, they are also limits and cuts on the spatial written page. The discourse thus spatialised, the reader witnesses the formation of a textual body. These fragments, first appearing as transitions or separate asides meant to deconstruct linearity, can be assembled to form a new text. I will thus consider how they are organized to become a story by themselves. Those juxtaposed fragments are a story building itself step by step against homogeneity and for a new expression of freedom, reflecting the main character’s will. They are mirror images of his life. In the end these fragments are present to transgress the laws of representation, combining different arts together: tweet writing is a form of art, in relation to our contemporary lives. Richard Powers wants to promote an aesthetics based on rupture and fragmentation. He deconstructs to reconstruct a novel based on polyphony. Ultimately, his aim is to confuse the reader and appeal to the imagination, to create a new sense of wonder.
Fragmentary Transtextuality: David Mitchell and His Novel
David Mitchell’s first published novel, Ghostwritten (1999), dazzled readers with its narrative structure. The work relied substantially for its aesthetic effect on the manner in which Mitchell creates superficially disjointed micro-narratives that, ultimately, are revealed to be connected by the very disembodied voice that the novel’s eponymous ghostly narrator already evoked. This contrast between fragmentation and cohesion forms a response to the poetological sense of exhaustion that followed the literary mode of postmodernity (itself defined as a literature of exhaustion), and it resurfaces in many of Mitchell’s subsequent novels, including both Cloud Atlas (2001) and Bone Clocks (2014). While this contrast already dissolves the absolute rupture that fragmentation employs as its essential gesture, Mitchell’s engagement with fragmentation includes another, even more radical aspect.
This paper argues that what sets Mitchell’s novelistic output apart from that of many other contemporary writers is not so much his employment of fragmentation as an aesthetic device that echoes and comments on the perceived loss of coherence his readers experience in their actual reality; instead what Mitchell supplies in his writing, here presented as consisting of one single novel only materially (but not aesthetically and effectively) broken up into a sequence of individual publications, is rather a themed engagement with the fact this transtextual technique, which transcends the singularity of individual novels, deflates the at times defeatist ethics of fragmentation. While an ethical-poetological commitment to fragmentation – as for instance encountered in much modernist writing – often results from a nostalgic feeling of loss, Mitchell’s sublation of fragmentation subscribes to a more optimistic outlook. In Mitchell’s novels, fragmentation ceases to relate to a sense of rupture or loss and instead signals towards connection, timelessness, and, ultimately, the book to come. This poetological (not to say utopian) gesture supplements fragmentation with transtextuality, and by doing so poses the impossibility of fragments.
Fragmentation and the Longing for Wholeness
Using Steven Hall’s Raw Shark Texts as the point of departure, I am going to explore the tension between imminent, or actual, fragmentation and the longing for wholeness in contemporary English fiction that can be classified as liberature. Described as a multimodal literary genre bound to the architecture of the printed book, liberature presupposes the integrity of the material book. However, many liberatic works deliberately challenge this through materially disintegrated forms (one of the most radical examples being B.S. Johnson’s The Unfortunates). For Hall, the choice of the printed codex is a deliberate aesthetic and compositional gesture, as its material structure is directly related to the concept of the narrative self insofar as the bound volume embodies the sequential coherence of a story. But the inclusion of the “Undex,” the visual materials included in chapter 36, as well as so-called un-chapters call into question the notion that this is the sole unitary form of organising knowledge. Consequently the notion of the self as a coherent, continuous whole is challenged. Thus, even if, as Hall’s novel does, liberatic works preserve the conventional codex format, they pursue various strategies that allow their matter to “spill out” of the confines of the volume. These strategies, connected with the mobility of the constituent parts, are aimed at dynamising the narrative and increasing the reader’s involvement. But, at the same time, this points to more profound, ontological and epistemological questions related to the ways one makes sense of oneself and of the world.
Fragmentation as Building Practice: The Collaboration Between Writer Thomas Ligotti and Music Band Current 93 for In a Foreign Town, in a Foreign Land (1997)
will tackle the different levels of fragmentation that can be found
in Thomas Ligotti’s collection of short stories In
a Foreign Town, in a Foreign Land:
thematic, structural, generic and philosophical. Fragmentation
is, above all, a key theme in the oeuvre of American horror writer
Thomas Ligotti. In
a Foreign Town, in a Foreign Land
(1997) is no exception. Its four short stories are set in an unnamed
“town near the northern border” characterised by its weird
inhabitants and the weirder still phenomena that occur there. From
dreams of dismemberment to strange disembodied voices calling on from
parallel dimensions, through grotesque and horrific parades
displaying objects and body parts, the four plots all convey a sense
of fragmentation and loss of the self. The stories themselves are
unrelated but unified by a common location
although bringing a thematic unity, is also a vehicle for
fragmentation (both structural and thematic), as it appears very
quickly that the town itself is what brings about the horror and the
I shall not only focus on those thematic and structural manifestations of fragmentation but will also analyse the fragmentary nature of the work itself through its multimodal nature. Indeed, the collection is a multimedia collaboration with music band Current 93. It was released as a limited-edition publication of 2000 copies featuring the book and a CD. The three members of the Post-Industrial British band composed four tracks to accompany the reading of Ligotti’s stories, and one of them designed the CD and the book covers. The stories themselves are dedicated to David Tibet, Current 93’s frontman, and Ligotti’s stories all feature sound as a key component of their diegesis and their atmosphere. The first of Ligotti and Tibet’s collaborations, In a Foreign Town, in a Foreign Land can only be apprehended at its best as a collage of words and sounds, as a soundscape of dream and horror that reaches its full potential when the two media work together. Finally, the fragmentary nature of the work helps to convey the philosophical and ontological anguish that Ligotti and Tibet both express in their individual work, which Tibet himself summarises as follows when writing about Ligotti: “The ends to which our schemes and dreams come is of no importance, like our gestures and thoughts: pointless motions of body and mind in a universe of smeared fairground mirrors.” Fragmentation therefore emerges as a mechanics of harmony where disparate elements eventually work together to create a cohesive work linking the craft, thought and vision of two artists.
Lives, etc: Fragments of Lives in Short Stories by Julian Barnes
paper reflects on uses of biographical accounts of people’s lives
in three collections of short stories written by Julian Barnes: Cross
Channel (1996), The
Lemmon Table (2004), and Pulse
(2011). Biographical forms in the
latter part of the twentieth and the twenty-first-century have shown
dynamic developments, migrating across genres, insistently exposing
instability. I propose an approach that foregrounds the fragmentary
appropriation of narratives of people’s lives in unconventional
forms of fictionalized conversations that change our conceptions of
the biographical subject. A theme that runs through this paper is
that lives as biography can be crafted in fiction not as substantive
narratives but as fragmentary exposures of states of creation.
Chinese Boxes or Russian Dolls? Embedded Feminine Narratives in the Fiction of A.S. Byatt, Michèle Roberts and Jeanette Winterson
proposed paper investigates various approaches to the story-within-a-story
literary strategy employed by three contemporary British women novelists. Each
of the texts examined – A.S. Byatt’s “The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye”
(1994), Michèle Roberts’s Flesh & Blood (1994), and Jeanette
Winterson’s The PowerBook (2000) – is a paradigm of fragmentary fiction,
with its multiple, often unfinished, storylines and its diverse, sometimes
dissipating, narrative voices. But although each writer builds her text from
many embedded narratives in a different manner, and to achieve a different artistic
effect, each aims to convey to the reader a powerful feminist message. In my
paper, I attempt to explain the narrative mechanisms of the works analysed, and
to investigate the rationale of structuring each of the texts in its own
Collage Manifestos: Appropriation, Fragmentation and the Future of Literature in the Works of David Markson, Jonathan Lethem and David Shields
The last decade has seen a revival of the death-of-the-novel rhetoric: such authors as Will Self, Lars Iyer and David Shields have made widely discussed announcements of the inadequacy of the novel to contemporary experience. In the light of the recent political, social and technological developments, literature has been under a lot of pressure to respond to the changes and follow suit. Among the texts most forcefully asserting the obsolescence of the novel as a literary form and of the traditional concept of originality are David Markson’s Reader’s Block tetralogy (1996-2007), Jonathan Lethem’s “The Ecstasy of Influence: A Plagiarism” (2007) and Shields’s Reality Hunger: A Manifesto (2010). Each of those works takes the form of a collage: a non-narrative juxtaposition of heterogeneous fragments, many of which appropriate external, often unacknowledged, sources. Whereas Markson intersperses hundreds of anecdotes and quotations with metafictional comments, Lethem and Shields compile longer passages from multiple works of criticism, which read as if they were written by a single author. Their choice of collage as a structural principle is not accidental – it embodies the very qualities their manifestos advocate: fragmentation, appropriation and the obliteration of the fiction-nonfiction divide.
My discussion of the mechanics and politics of collage (as well as of the paradoxical notion of a collage manifesto) in Markson, Lethem and Shields will be situated in the wider context of the debates about the capacity of collage to engage with social and political concerns and about the shape of contemporary fiction. I will argue that David Banash’s claim in Collage Culture (2013) that collage is an apt metaphor for “the phenomenal experience of everyday life in consumer culture” and for living in a “radically fragmented world” is lent credence by the recent collage (or collage-like) novels by Steve Tomasula, Lance Olsen, Jenny Offill and Will Eaves.
Affective Disorder: The Fragmentary Writings of Sigrid Nunez and Jamaica Kincaid
“Chang” (1993), Sigrid Nunez’s tribute to an unloved father, is composed of shards, each colored with a different emotion, from wistfulness, curiosity, and resentment, to guilt, shame, and anger. The fragmentary nature of this text underscores the subject matter: evidently the first-person narrator has trouble telling a coherent story about her father, so she settles for a handful of decontextualized images, dialogues, scenes, sounds, and smells, contradictory testimony from various people who knew him, and even a list of Hank Williams songs he liked. Ultimately, the word-portrait of the father fails to piece him together. The failure on the formal level mirrors the father’s failure to live up to his wife’s and daughters’ expectations.
I intend to juxtapose “Chang” with Jamaica Kincaid’s At the Bottom of the River (1983) to ask about the potential of fragmentary writing for talking about the sense of displacement caused by both legal and illegal migration. In both cases, the choice of fragmentary writing occurred early on in the writers’ careers and did not bring them fame. Eventually both developed more conventional narrative styles and only then achieved recognition.
Multimodality and Aesth-Ethics, or, Fragments and Spirals: The Entropology of Theories of Forgetting
Visual devices in literary works have often been considered juvenile
or low-culture gimmickry (see discussion in Gibbons 2012: 159-161; Sadokierski
2010: 54-8). To some extent, this is inevitable given that cheaper design and
production processes have resulted – in the twenty-first century – in the
ubiquity of the multimodal novel. Nevertheless, parallel to the boom of
multimodality and multimediality in book design, contemporary fiction also
often exhibits an increased conscience and consciousness of the socio-political
climate of the globalizing world. This can be seen, for instance, in the multimodal
novels Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
by Jonathan Safran Foer (2005), which explores a nine-year-old boy’s
struggle to come to terms with the death of his father in 9/11, and Kapow! by Adam Thirlwell (2012) which
uses concrete poetic designs to defamiliarise and thus raise awareness of the
tumultuous events of the Arab Spring. Adopting Vermeulen and van den Akker’s
(2010) term, I therefore argue that these parallel investments – in multimodal
form and socio-political content – serve to characterise contemporary
multimodal fictions as “aesth-ethical”.
Concentrating on Lance Olsen’s (2014) Theories of Forgetting, this paper explores how multimodal fiction exploits the unique properties of the printed book to articulate ethical concerns. Theories of Forgetting features three interrelated narratives but at the heart of all three – and the structural trope of the book itself – is American artist Robert Smithson’s earthwork The Spiral Jetty and his conception (following Levi-Strauss) of “entropology” (see Smithson qtd. in Müller 1996 ). For Smithson, entropology is the destruction of developed structures by mankind. In Theories of Forgetting, the multimodal form of the book becomes increasingly fragmented as it engages with the disintegration of the environment, human cognition, and human mortality.
Broken Realism: The Implicit and Explicit in Modern American Short Stories
As Umberto Eco noted in L’opera aperta, a work of art is an object produced by an author who organizes a series of communicative effects in such a way that every possible receiver can access the work in the original form intended by the author. A few texts, on the other hand, are purposefully left “incomplete,” that is to say their structure suggests a meaning that relies on the missing information of the narrative context, often creating a defamiliarization in the reader.
With modernity, this openness started to be voluntary and somehow calculated, that is to say authors deliberately considered this openness as an important objective to be achieved in composing their texts, a characteristic that was also made possible by an evolution in the critical competence of the reading public. As Roland Barthes pointed out, “Readers had become so accustomed to reading unfinished texts by the early nineteenth century that it became acceptable and even fashionable to publish poems that were intentionally fragmentary.” Even if the theorization of fragments dates back to Romanticism, with Schlegel in particular, modern American short stories are the extreme completion of this tendency.
Focusing mainly on the implications of the Iceberg Theory, formulated by Ernest Hemingway, I would like to explore the concept of the implicit and the explicit in modern short stories, in particular analyzing the form of chosen texts by J. D. Salinger, John Cheever and Raymond Carver. I will concentrate on the relationship between linear and nonlinear exposition and the relationship with realism. If in fact the realistic component of a story serves as a catalyst for the reader’s perception – the Aristotelian mimesis – the missing information on “normal” storytelling opens the reader’s critical competence by making them fulfill the missing links to create an acceptable and satisfying meaning.
David Foster Wallace’s Fragmented Fiction Versus Don DeLillo’s Mediated Reality
In the 1993 interview by Larry McCaffery, when asked about the influence of mediation on his narrative strategies, David Foster Wallace made a reference to the deceptive connection often made between his prose and the aesthetics of television. While explaining the relationship, he pointed out that his prose, rather than mimic television, attempts to expose its distorting quality. As such it can be viewed as a form of literary realism. Making a distinction between Realism and realism, Wallace pointed out the fact that his prose, though fragmented, achronological and non-linear is a representation of reality. This neo-Platonic remark from a writer whose oeuvre so clearly stems from the American postmodernist tradition, whose literary models include Thomas Pynchon, Donald Barthelme and Don DeLillo may come as a surprise. Therefore, I would like offer a study of the complex relationships between Wallace’s fragmented narratives and the heavily mediated reality to which they attempt to adhere. I would like to examine the change in thinking about America’s mediascape that occurred almost seamlessly in the decade between DeLillo’s White Noise (1985) and Wallace’s Infinite Jest (1996) and test the validity of the relevant poststructuralist paradigms at the turn of the millennium.
Myths Torn Apart: Robert Coover’s Fragmentary Writing
In 2005 Robert Coover published a collection of stories called A Child Again. The work was accompanied by a pack of cards with fragments of a story written on each retelling the tale of who stole the tarts baked by the Queen of Hearts. Keeping the first and last cards in place, the deck can be shuffled and read in any order to create a string of different stories and plots. With one set of cards a myriad of narratives can be generated. This creative exercise demonstrates Coover’s concerns with the craft of storytelling, myth and his metafictional drive. In his oeuvre, Coover’s intention is very rarely verisimilitude; his short stories are usually inspired by fables and mythology, drawing attention to their own artificiality or deliberately pulling the carpet from beneath his reader. For Coover, the author is the creative force, seemingly overwhelmed by the semantic freight of myth and narrative they must gather, craft and re-sculpt. He has explained that it “is the role of the author, the fiction maker, the mythologizer, to be the creative spark in the process of renewal: he’s the one who tears apart the old story, speaks the unspeakable, makes the ground shake, then shuffles the bits back together into a new story. Partly anarchical, in other words, partly creative – or re-creative.” It is in this sense that Coover describes his endeavour as tearing old narratives to pieces and then, in an act of bricolage, drawing from the remnants that he finds.
I will explore how Coover’s texts are fragmentary pieces that address and problematize conventional notions of storytelling, often highlighting the fallibility of an archetypal omniscient author. In his novel The Universal Baseball Association (1968) Coover’s central character, Henry Waugh, disappears from the text in the final chapter. Without warning, the inner diegesis of Henry’s created baseball league subsumes the previous “reality” of his life. For Coover, the author has the responsibility to debunk and rework the oppressive narratives of myth and folklore. In many cases, fragmentation allows the artist the necessary creative surplus to see anew and “re-create.”
Saloua Karoui- Elounelli
Poetics and Ethics of Fragmentariness in Gilbert Sorrentino’s Blue Pastoral
The persistence of narrative discontinuity, of “oblique narrativity” (to borrow David Herman’s phrase) in postmodern metafiction has often been assimilated to the prominence of its experimental drive and its avant-gardist ethos. Gilbert Sorrentino’s fiction displays such an experimental stance in its critique of narrative fiction’s form(s) and of its representational claims and processes. This paper aims at examining some of the implications generated by the parodic mode in Sorrentino’s Blue Pastoral (1983) and the consequent contribution of its questioning of fiction’s mimetic orientation to the tendency of postmodern (meta)fiction to urge a rethinking of narrative ethics. The poetics of narrative discontinuity in Sorrentino’s novel will be discussed in relation to its rethinking of an ethics of anti-representational fiction.
Such poetics will be explored through the focus on two devices of the novel’s narratorial apparatus (or its “language game of narration,” to adapt Mary-Laure Ryan’s terms): the play of narrative “fissures” (emanating from the structural effect of the “permanent gaps” and from the disruptive open-endedness of “framing”) and collage. The close interaction between the operation of narrative fissure in Blue Pastoral and the mode of the collage (the absence of framing being concomitant with the juxtaposition of different generic styles: narrative, dramatic, essayistic, etc) enacts the narrative’s avant-gardist and self-critical stance.
On the one hand, the novel’s ironic imitation of the quest motif and of the “self-fashioning” thematic, typical of the quest novel, in addition to its perversion of the pastoral tradition, will be partly examined in relation to the aestheticism of parody in Sorrentino’s experimental (meta)fiction. The ethical implications of the plural parodic game, on the other, are to be explored in relation to the post-humanist tendency of postmodern (meta)fiction. What makes the aesthetic and ethical implications of fragmentation here different from the fragmentation generated by the episodic structure of more traditional picaresque novels?
Finally, the paper will raise, through Sorrentino’s novel, the question of fragmentariness from the angle of its contribution to the aestheticism of self-reflexive fiction and the possibility for such aestheticism to be inclusive of the ethical turn. That is, the possibility that it urges a rethinking of the ethics of story and storytelling; a rethinking of the value of literary meaningfulness and of narrative “truth.”
Hexen 2.0 by Suzanne Treister: The Autopoietic Wunderkammer of Alternative History
The paper investigates Hexen 2.0 (2012), a multimodal project by Suzanne Treister, as a wunderkammer vision of contemporary history in the vein of Walter Benjamin – as an allegorical collage created out of fragments, rubbish, and refuse collected by a rag-picker historian. Hexen 2.0 interrogates links between the occult, the military and the scientific research as well as positing a connection between the occult and political resistance. Treister’s project is an inquiry into the histories of scientific research behind government programs of mass control, simultaneously investigating parallel histories of countercultural and grass roots movements. In particular, it is concerned with the seminal Macy Conferences (1946-1953), intended to set the preliminaries for a general science of the workings of human mind. At the same time the Hexen 2.0 project looks at critics of technological society such as The Unabomber, and such predecessors of ecological movements as H. D. Thoreau. Hexen 2.0 organizes its material by bringing together alchemical diagrams, photo-text works, drawings and designs for a 78 card Tarot deck, and a separately published set of working Tarot cards, accompanying the book. The Hexen 2.0 historical diagrams attempt to map out specific histories and to show how these histories interrelate through cybernetic feedback loops, “with a potential outcome not only of human connectivity and autopoiesis … but also of governmental control.” Lars Bang Larsen points out that to employ “a format for heuristic knowledge organization” that ostensibly obscures an inquiry, may seem counterintuitive. However, in science “the counterintuitive may represent a logical next step in a systematic investigation that has so far proven fruitless.” Aptly, the multimodality and autopoietic potential of Treister’s Hexen 2.0 project encourage the transformation of hypothetical futures, projected by political calculations and scientific research, into possible, alternative futures through uncovering feedback from the past, that is, from early technological fantasy.
A Poetics of Fragment in British Prose Fiction
In my current project I am working on a six-component typology of experimentation in contemporary prose fiction. In my talk, however, I shall focus exclusively on two types of experiment: narrative and syntactic. I undertake their examination against the general grid of experimental fiction and demonstrate that they are intrinsically related to two distinct types of fragmentation.
Firstly, we can observe works that violate the fundamental feature of narrative, i.e. a coherent event sequence, and eventuate a narratively fragmented construction. In other words, these novels undermine vital narrative properties such as story/plot distinction, causality and sequentiality; a good case in point is B.S. Johnson’s 1969 The Unfortunates. A second type of experimentation, at a micro-level, pertains to syntax. In Eimear McBride’s 2013 novel, A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, specific irregular sentence structures bring about syntactic fragmentation. In this gesture of undermining syntax paradigms, meaning is generated by traditionally non-novelistic means such as prosody and rhetorical devices (e.g. onomatopoeias, alliterations or repetitive patterns).
In the last section I conclude that both narrative and syntactic experimentation fly in the face of conventional and canonical prose fiction, mainly by employing two different fragmentation strategies. Yet, as Michał Głowiński and Peter J. Rabinovitz assert, each novel offers its “methodology,” i.e. cues assisting readers in receiving it. I examine the cues, or rules, of coherence in Johnson’s and McBride’s novels and briefly discuss a meaning generation system in fragmentary fiction operating on alternative basis than in the realist novel.
“My life story was spaces”: Trauma and the Mechanics of Fragmentation in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
Anne Whitehead notices an apparent contradiction in the phrase “trauma fiction”; she writes, “if trauma comprises an event or experience which overwhelms the individual and resists language or representation, how then can it be narrativized in fiction?” Although she uses the verb “to resist,” Whitehead points to Giorgio Agamben’s warning regarding the use of such terms as “the unspeakable,” “the unsayable” and “the ineffable,” which tend to altogether sacralize suffering. Trauma intrinsically resists language, but nevertheless it can and must be said.
In the aftermath of 9/11, writers have struggled to come to terms with the event. Some of them decided to resort to new or at least unusual devices, as a way to communicate in a different way, thereby standing against the normalization or domestication of an event which exceeds our categories of representation. In Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Jonathan Safran Foer opts for a form of fragmentary writing to convey a reality equally in shambles, a world filled with individuals who have fallen to pieces.
Oskar’s grandfather has lost the ability to speak after the death of the love of his life in the bombing of Dresden in February 1945. From then on, the only way he can communicate is through short sentences scribbled on the pages of a notebook; his conversations are limited by the very size of the page, and he constantly complains about his constricted writing space. The pages themselves are inserted into the novel and form a sort of alien presence which does not cohere with the rest. In the chapters narrated by the grandmother, the layout of the page is particularly unconventional, as she makes recurrent use of line breaks just as in a poem, while the spaces between the sentences are larger than usual. According to Kristiaan Versluys, the page “is a filled-in emptiness,” which testifies to the fragmentation of the self. The little boy himself has trouble making sense of the death of his father in the 9/11 attacks, and finds solace in occupying his mind by devising a series of inventions, which often give way to endless enumerations. He takes pictures of everything that seems odd to him, and like notebook pages the photographs suddenly barge into the novel and interrupt our reading experience.
Augment the Scantling?: A Codicological Approach to the Short-Fictional Fragment
It has long been a commonplace of commentary that the short story is a fragmentary form. It is marked by what V.S. Pritchett called a “glancing view.” Linked closely to the short story’s brevity, such fragmentariness has been varyingly evaluated. G.K. Chesterton and Arnold Bennett, inter alios, were scathing. Elizabeth Bowen and Pritchett sang its praises. Renate Brosch persuasively argues that the constitutive syncope of short fiction is a boon of the form.
But many short-story writers seek to augment the fragment in a variety of ways. I have argued (Malcolm 2012) that an interest in epiklesis is an attempt to overcome the necessary points of indeterminacy in short fiction. Veining the brief episode with suggestive implications of an entire life, society, metaphysics, or universe is another amplifying strategy. Further, Marie Louise Pratt pointed out over twenty years ago that short stories usually appear surrounded by other texts, most often in collections. Short stories gathered in a collection amplify, contradict, and shadow each other in semantically important ways. Indeed, the context of the magazine in which a short story appears, fragment in a gallimaufry, embedded often in a mass of non-fictional texts, visual images, and advertisements (The New Yorker offers particular good examples of this), may also generate supplementary meanings to it, although this topic has been little researched.
In my paper, I will consider relationships among individual short texts, fragmentariness, and context in Alan Garner’s The Stone Book Quartet (1983), Lydia Davis’s Break It Down (1986), Michèle Roberts’s Mud: Stories of Sex and Love (2010), and Lucia Berlin’s A Manual for Cleaning Women (2015). I will further suggest a typology of strategies adopted by writers in relation to short fiction’s inescapable fragmentariness, including its shameless promotion. I will refer here to the above texts but also to short fiction by Tim O’Brien, David Foster Wallace, John Berger, and Bruce Jay Friedman.
Unbox the Story: The Resurgence of Shuffle Narratives in Contemporary Fiction
Shuffle narratives (a term coined by Zuzana Husárová and Nick Monfort to refer to narratives meant to be physically shuffled and read nonlinearly) are by no means new: scholars are usually prompt to quote B.S. Johnson’s The Unfortunates and Marc Saporta’s Composition No. 1 as the two seminal works of this niche genre. However, many other shuffle narratives have been produced in the twenty-first century, such as Jedediah Berry’s The Family Arcana, Eric Zimmerman and Nancy Nowacek’s Life in the Garden and Robert Coover’s “Heart Suit”; there have also been experiments of a similar sort in comics (most notably with Chris Ware’s Building Stories) and in digital literature (Visual Editions’ adaptation of Saporta’s novel or Tom Phillips’s adaptation of A Humument).
In this talk, I want to study both the materiality of such texts as well as their modalities of reading, focusing on what it means to produce shuffle narratives in today’s literary landscape. I will present the different ways a narrative can be shuffled and the formats and media it imitates in doing so: from the card game to the oracle to the puzzle, shuffling a story can have different intents and frame the narrative in different ways, prompting the reader to stitch the text in a certain way. The reconstructive role of the reader also differs depending on the medium, especially since interpretative reading already plays a very important role in conventional comic books. Finally, shuffle narratives also question several notions taken for granted in the structure of a narrative, such as beginnings and endings, not to mention the division of a text into paragraphs and chapters.
This study of shuffle narratives therefore aims to shed new light on an ever-expanding genre, which helps us to better understand how tension and narrative progression are encoded within a text and how complex really is the process of reading which we tend to take for granted.
Singularity, Multimodality, Transmediality: Fragmentary Future(s) of the Novel?
The aim of my talk is to discuss the major ways in which contemporary fiction departs from the default medium of supposedly transparent printed codex in response to the impact of other media and to assess, within the theoretical framework of transmedial narratology, to what extent these new medial formats are inherently fragmentary. With electronic formats gradually superseding the book as a medium for mere verbal messages, a growing number of novelists (e.g. Mark Z. Danielewski, Jonathan Safran Foer or Steve Tomasula) foreground the medial singularity of the book by using devices peculiar to this very medium. This exploitation of the semiotic potential of the printed codex involves the employment of non-verbal means of expression, such as typeface, page layout and images, and often entails fragmentation on the level of material/visual organisation of the text, which becomes a multimodal artefact. The interplay between multimodality and fragmentation is also one of the defining features of digital fiction, which can combine verbal sections not only with static graphics but also with moving images and sounds. Again, most interesting are works which mobilise the semiotic potential of a particular digital interface, as happens, for instance, in the case of Samantha Gorman and Danny Cannizzaro’s Pry, described by its creators as “a fiction created exclusively for digital, touchscreen reading.” Still other novels, such as J. J. Abrams and Doug Dorst’s S., function as transmedial projects, distributed across various media platforms, each of them – be it a book or a website – offering only partial access to the fictional universe. It would thus appear that multimodal and transmedial incarnations of the novel tend towards fragmentation, though only time will tell whether “this most fluid genre,” as Mikhail Bakhtin has it, will evolve in this direction, my talk being an inevitably fragmentary vision of its future.
“You’re going to go to pieces”: Fragments and Freedom in Harry Mathews’ The Journalist
This paper examines The Journalist (1997), a novel by American author Harry Mathews, which depicts an unnamed narrator’s attempt to bring order to his life through a system of classification that he applies to his diary. The narrator discovers that he must continually revise his system to align the classificatory structure with the complexity of his experiences. Order leads to disorder as the system fragments into increasingly smaller units that lead, ultimately, to the narrator’s mental collapse. This collapse is represented textually as the alphanumeric classifications take up more and more of the page, limiting the space where the narrator can document his experiences, until the system ultimately fails. Mathews, known as the first American member of the French experimental writing group Oulipo, states that The Journalist was created using a formal constraint, a fundamental technique for the Oulipo. Mathews thus participates in the Oulipian tradition, which emerged with Raymond Queneau’s break with the Surrealists over the use of “stream of consciousness” writing. For Queneau and the members of the Oulipo, “the random elimination of constraint” (Roubaud, Oulipo Primer) is not a path to freedom. Instead, true freedom is realised, the Oulipo claim, in a conscious and deliberate struggle with constraints. Despite employing a formal constraint in the novel, Mathews is ambivalent about its significance for The Journalist. In this paper, I will argue that The Journalist brings into tension the idea “that the pursuit of subjective freedom may be enabled – and not impeded – by the struggle with limits, obstacles, and constraints” (McNulty). The Journalist suggests that adherence to constraints does not necessarily lead to freedom and may even lead to a loss of subjectivity. This paper examines how The Journalist negotiates the dialectic of freedom and constraint through the textual fragment.
paper examines the legacy of the Benjaminian essay as a compositional
model for contemporary fiction. Benjamin’s essays often come in
numbered sections that could in fact be read in any order and are
neither mutually confirming nor mutually denying; they hesitate
between aggregation and disaggregation; they do not bind one another
ever more tightly to a common premise; they brush up against one
another erratically, with each connection raising the nap of an idea
in a different direction from those of other encounters. This
experience of reading arises from an encounter with the essay as a
constellation of fragments, and my paper seeks to demonstrate the
influence of this mode of organization; of this mobilization of the
reader’s resources, on subsequent fiction—most notably that of
John Berger and W.G. Sebald. Berger takes his own text-objects,
fragments them, and disarranges them in such a way as to force
readers to draw them together in some kind of order. His fictions
agitate the relation between their separate parts in such a way as to
complicate and enlarge the reader’s scope. In Sebald’s The
Rings of Saturn, the writing fuses the
log-book of a pedestrian journey with flights of the imagination—its
plotted itinerary keeps turning into an exploratory divagation.
Sebald’s fictional text is a book of forking paths, a record of
turning points, of the roads not taken and the roads that took over
the original project and rearranged its first principles. He
identifies his practice with that of the ruminative essays of Sir
Thomas Browne, yet gravitates constantly towards the redistributive
practices of Benjamin.
What is Fragmentary Fiction? And How is it Fragmentary?
This talk begins by questioning what is meant by fragmentary fiction, in part by suggesting that all fiction is fragmentary. Henry James, writing from a commitment to verisimilitude and the obligation of fiction to produce the sensation of reality, wrote: "Really, universally, relations stop nowhere, and the exquisite problem of the artist is eternally but to draw, by a geometry of his own, the circle within which they shall happily appear to do so." My talk then turns to that which most gives the impression of the fragmentary, dividing the results between those which are fortuitous (unfinished because of death, partial because parts were lost) and those that are intentionally fragmentary—that is those whose authors decline to draw that circle demanded by James. It offers some explanations—based on temperament or Zeitgeist--for the rise of intentional and even ostentatious fragmentation; and tentatively suggests three models of narrative fragmentation. These are the braid, which combines several narratives in a plaited pattern; the bricolage, made up of disparate materials; and the mosaic, in which the tesserae are separate narratives, or even portions as small as isolated sentences, whose overall effect is to make up a meaningful whole.
Examples of each of these three suggested models of fragmentary fiction are provided including, as an illustration of each, one of the novels on the shortlist for the 2016 Man Booker Prize: Madeleine Thien's Do Not Say We Have Nothing is a braid; Graeme Macrae Burnet's His Bloody Project is a bricolage; and David Szalay's All That Man Is is a mosaic.
On Fragmented Experiences in Zadie Smith’s NW and Swing Time
Published respectively in 2012 and 2016, Zadie Smith’s NW and Swing Time, her two most recent novels, appear to break with the aesthetics of On Beauty (2005), her Man Booker Prize shortlisted novel. Abandoning the linearity of traditional story-telling of which On Beauty partook, NW and Swing Time display a formal fragmentation, jumping back and forth from one point of view to another, one time period to another, one place to another, with no apparent rationale. Indeed, while NW weaves together the threads of four different narratives seen through four different characters, its structure thus fragmented into seemingly disparate subplots, Swing Time incessantly travels back and forth between continents and between the narrator’s childhood and adulthood, as though it were taking to task the linearity of time itself. Through the analysis of the various fragmentary modes in NW and Swing Time, this paper wishes to contend that, while it may first appear to be a challenge to the congruence of plot, one that is reminiscent of the postmodernist taste for discontinuity and experimentation, this writing commitment to fragmentation is fundamentally a political stance in Smith’s fiction. By deconstructing the linear fabric of plot, NW and Swing Time seem to argue that experience – cultural, political, social or individual – is multifarious and ever-shifting, and thus can only be accounted for by discursively espousing its fragmentary nature. Therefore, the multiplication of subject-positions, the refusal of monologic narratives, as well as the eschewal of linearity in NW and Swing Time must be understood as rebuttals of a reality conceived of unilaterally, or normatively defined. In NW, for example, the descriptions of London are often different, not to say contradictory, according to the eyes through which the city is seen, as if to suggest that an objective reality of the city – the “geospace,” to use a word coined by Barbara Piatti – does not exist. The reality of London, its authenticity, can only be grasped though the fragmented experiences of the characters who roam the capital. In other words, I wish to argue that in NW and Swing Time the poetics of fragmentation is a politics of authenticity, since it is only through fragmented experiences that reality can be apprehended. The fragmentary mode is thus paradoxically equated not with the gesture of division, but with the effort to “only connect” these fragments of experience, that is, to do what the famous epigraph of E.M. Forster’s Howards End summons us to do, a novel of which, by the by, On Beauty is an explicit “hommage.”
Insights from the Fragmentary Diaries: Virginia Woolf’s “The Legacy” and Susan Sontag’s “The Way We Live Now”
Virginia Woolf and Susan Sontag wrote their lives on a grand scale. Woolf’s “private” writings have been so far collected into five volumes of diaries, six volumes of letters, plus emerging editions of early journals, travel and writing notebooks. Not until after Sontag’s death did her private papers come to light – so far the first two volumes of her fragmented autobiographical notes were published: Reborn: Early Diaries, 1947-1963 (2008) and As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh: Diaries 1963-1981 (2012). Yet, there are numerous boxes of her journals, notebooks with diary entries and reading lists, letters, photographs, as well as a laptop with her seventeen thousand one hundred and ninety-eight e-mails, carefully preserved in the Charles E. Young Research Library (UCLA).
Nonetheless, a close examination of Woolf’s and Sontag’s diaries reveals a far more important similarity: both writers are among the most self-aware literary diarists, fascinated by the aesthetic possibilities of life writing. Therefore, this paper seeks to present how Woolf and Sontag used their diary-writing to experiment with fragmentation in their fiction. The phenomenon will be analyzed within the frameworks of two models which define fragmentation as an aesthetic strategy of resistance and metaliterary reflection on the nature of autobiographical memory. In exploring such questions, the paper will follow autobiography and fragmentation theory, along with the works on Woolf’s and Sontag’s oeuvre.
Specifically, this paper juxtaposes fragmentation in Woolf’s “The Legacy” with Sontag’s “The Way We Live Now”. Both short stories reveal a polyphonic portrayal of a dead person whose fictional diary plays a crucial role in the representation of events. Woolf’s “The Legacy” focuses on a widower who reconstructs his wife’s life thanks to her diary, since she has left him “fifteen little volumes, bound in green leather”. By contrast, in Sontag's story a whole group of friends, partners and lovers need to confront the unnamed fatal illness of the unnamed central character who begins "keeping a diary for the first time in his life". In both stories, the literary fragmentation is used to reveal the inevitably fragmentary character of memory and identity.
Alicia J. Rouverol
Fragmentary Writing and Globalisation in the Writings of Ali Smith
This paper will explore the aesthetics of fragmentation in Ali Smith’s writings and questions whether Smith’s use of fragmentary writing serves to depict, as well as express and extend, her interests in globalisation. I begin by examining fragmentary writing in Hotel World (2001), but I will also look at other works in which Smith breaks down language into its fundamental components; i.e., her use of grammatical categories (chapters named after verbal tense and mood in Hotel World), articles and prepositions (“there,” “but,” “for” and “the” as title and chapter names), and the metaphors she draws from such verbal play. As I will argue, such word play illuminates her novels’ themes, suggesting her aesthetic approach to fragmentary writing as a strategy by which she responds to globalisation’s effects on contemporary Britain.
For this paper I draw on research developed for my PhD thesis, a study of the use of time in Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad (2010) and Smith’s The Accidental (2005), as well as research I am undertaking in preparation for post-doc applications examining the neoliberal novel and globalisation in the writing of Smith.
“You and I” - the Fragmentation of the Writing Self and the Tradition of Modernism in T. S. Eliot's and Gabriel Josipovici's Aesthetic Theory and Artistic Practice
The aim of this paper is to show Gabriel Josipovici’s extraordinary novel Moo Pak as a contemporary re-working of T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” As a re-interpretation of Eliot’s most famous poem, Josipovici’s novel focuses on the way Eliot’s poem can be read as an artistic rendering of theoretical issues concerning the artist's engagement with the writing of others, which necessarily involves his/her depersonalisation. Josipovici is less optimistic about this process and calls it “another kind of romantic dream.” The main objective of Josipovici’s novel is thus to narrativize the process of writing as an anguished experience of the never-complete fragmentation of the writing self. This process is also explained as “a constant dialectic between pain and fear occasioned by the shedding of the self and the pleasure of making something other than the self.” Originating from modernism beleaguered by the feeling of doubt, suspicion and insecurity as well as the authority crisis, Josipovici’s ambitious project in Moo Pak is based on dialectic balancing between various extremes, signaled, as it is also the case with Eliot’s poem, already in the title. The monologic form of the novel makes the text a massive unity which, however, due to the lack of a traditional division into chapters or even paragraphs becomes quite chaotic and thus deeply fragmentary. This formal instability pertains to, and constructs, two main figures, Jack Toledano and Damien Anderson, competing for the position of the creator of this bizarre story. Reflections on the ideas of others constitute the major part of the novel, the speaker’s mind being the only catalyst for the wide array of theories. Devised in this fashion, the novel draws attention to the problem of the relation between tradition and originality. Written in 1994 as a parody of a modernist poem, Josipovici’s novel comments upon the tradition of modernism and postmodernism by eschewing full compatibility with either of the two columns of characteristics assigned by Ihab Hassan for modernist and postmodernist works and shifting smoothly between epistemological and ontological dominants identified in modernist and postmodernist literature by Brian McHale. The final sentence of the book only augments the aura of hesitation, indecision and constant deliberation on which this ambivalent project is based but some conclusions are reached.
Fragmentation(s) and Realism(s): Has the Fragment Gone Mainstream?
As recently as December 2014, Tom McCarthy advocated the inherent realism of the fragment – realism not as a set of time-worn conventions but as that which is “truly” realistic – invoking William Burroughs’s notorious dictum in the process: “Consciousness is a cut-up; life is a cut-up.” My paper will look at British and American novels published in the new millennium (such as Andrew Crumey’s Mr Mee, Zadie Smith’s NW, Nicholas Royle’s First Novel, David Damrosch’s Meetings of the Mind, Nicole Krauss’s The History of Love and Great House, Paul Auster’s 4 3 2 1) in an attempt to shed light on the fraught relationship between realism (as a set of conventions frequently equated with mainstream art) and fragmentation in recent literature and criticism. I am particularly interested in testing Ted Gioia’s recent hypothesis (2013) regarding the three phases in the evolution of the fragmented novel in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries against some of the novels mentioned above, which would chronologically pertain to the third phase, that in which the fragmented novel allegedly becomes “holistic and coalescent,” resisting “disunity, even as it appears to embody it.” Another critical argument informing my paper will be Patricia Waugh and Jennifer Hodgson’s contention that in latter-day British culture “literary ‘innovation’ is read as ‘degeneration’” and “[l]iterary experiment still tends to be perceived as a pernicious form of French ‘flu” (2012).
Maria Antonietta Struzziero
“Make it new” to Return as Rupture and Difference: A Study of Jeanette Winterson’s The Gap of Time
Jeanette Winterson’s The Gap of Time (2015) is a rewriting of William Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale (1623). She deconstructs Shakespeare’s play to “make it new” and reinvents it as a fragmented, postmodern novel. Though self-contained and complete in itself, the novel constantly summons up and produces its doppelgänger: its double as its Other. Actually, Shakespeare’s text is evoked in the list of contents as “The Original,” with a synopsis of the play, followed by Winterson’s rewriting that she calls “The Cover Version.” So The Gap forcibly does not stand alone, preceded by the absent past text to which it silently gestures, a lingering ghostly presence inside it that constitutes its status as “fragment.”
The Gap, it is argued, has many ingredients of the fragmentary mode in its dialectic of being in-between: it straddles between obedience to and resistance to the “authority” of Shakespeare’s play, articulating the impossibility of reconciling opposite tendencies. It is a discontinuous, multilayered narrative set in different spatial and temporal dimensions, which escapes linearity and continuity, a constant in Winterson’s fiction. It is fragmented and scattered across genres, alternating between the real and the fantastic, with incursions in the world of videogames; it incorporates and mashes up several sources, including a fictional entry from Wikipedia, a text dispersed across a number of styles, as well as a myriad of voices, with sudden shifts from first to third person narrative, even on the same page, and an intrusion of Winterson’s own “real” voice speaking, features that convey irrepressible forms of difference and multiplicity.
By making use of devices typical of the fragmentary mode, Winterson effects a radical transformation of a canonical text and metamorphoses it into a multiple shape-shifting body, differently inflected in terms of gender and genre. She subverts and transgresses the borders of literary genres, recasting the structure, texture, characters, and style of the work she dialogues with. Winterson’s act of retelling generates new complex characters who act within reversed systems of power relations and inscribe modern forms of gender-fluid identities. The result is a counter-narrative that is strongly polemical on some issues, a text that operates as her site of denunciation of, and resistance to, clichéd ideological binary oppositions and hierarchical power relations.
Life In Fragments: Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook as an Experiment in Fictional Form
The Golden Notebook (1962), which Nick Bentley sees as “a critical and philosophical investigation into the nature of fiction,” remains Doris Lessing’s literary manifesto of twentieth-century English literature. By crossing the borders of conventional fiction writing, Lessing managed to explore the historical context of 1960s Britain, thus creating a link between fragmentary writing and the prevalent cultural concerns of the time. What operates as an experiment in fictional form is a fragmented narrative: four colourful notebooks, each exploiting a different framework, bound as one – the golden notebook. Anna Wulf, the protagonist of the novel, accomplishes herself by allowing her individual consciousness to be a part of a collective experience of sociological shifts. Four notebooks embody Anna’s life—from her past in South Africa to political associations, exercised through an objective character identification, which offers an insight into her dreams and memories. As the novel provocatively depicts the women’s liberation movement linked to the rise of Second Wave Feminism, Lessing not only delves into a critique of society, but also allows for a meta-critical reading of her novel. Instead of constructing the narrative within a linear sequence of events, she experiments with interspersed parts of a plot that reflects the fragmentation of Anna’s life. I shall argue that such disunity is an intentional device employed by Lessing to portray the fragmentation of society, as the experimental form of the novel complies with experimental political and cultural changes.
The Architectural Fragment: Ruins and Totality in J. G. Ballard’s Fiction
Maurice Blanchot’s “The Fragment Word” (parole de fragment) on René Char makes the case that the fragment is the most appropriate literary form to develop in the twentieth century due to its ability to capture the disruptive effects of writing or, as Blanchot proposes, the dislocation energy of poetry. The architectural counterpart to this literary device is to be found in the image of ruins, which in a like manner establish a dialectic relationship with the concept of totality. The cult of architectural ruins, however, is not a twentieth century phenomenon, with its beginnings stemming from the eighteenth century, later progressing through Modernism. Beginning with the Romantic fragment, as it appeared in Friedrich Schlegel’s Athenaeum to T. S. Eliot’s Wasteland, the image of ruins has provided a metaphor for the breakdown of institutions, both political and cultural, as well as various foundational structures of meaning, characteristic of modernity in general and modernist literature in particular.
What this paper will attempt to address is the relationship of the fragment towards totality, a point which distinguishes the contemporary fragment from its Romantic predecessor. This relationship will be assessed with recourse to the various manifestations of architectural ruins found in J. G. Ballard’s fiction, which is often seen as straddling the distinction between modernist and postmodernist conceptualizations of space. The role architectural ruins occupy in those narratives will be seen as an extension of the stylistic experiments centered on fragmentary writing in Ballard’s Atrocity Exhibition.
The Afterlife of Theory in Maggie Nelson’s Bluets
Maggie Nelson’s Bluets (2009) ostensibly consists of a one-hundred-page-long meditation on the colour blue. Taking the form of 240 numbered sections, Nelson’s work intersperses autobiography, theory, quotations, aphorisms, and critical and philosophical insights. Its fragmentary style could usefully be read in light of what Rosalind Krauss in 1980 referred to as the “paraliterary,” a term used to describe Roland Barthes’s hybridisation of literature and criticism. Being neither criticism nor “not-criticism,” writes Krauss, the paraliterature of Barthes and Jacques Derrida “finds itself caught in a dramatic web of many voices, citations, asides, divigations.” Their fragmentary modes of writing can therefore be viewed as a technique enabling the polyphony of this dramatic web.
How are we to understand the paraliterary qualities of Bluets in the 21st century, which has already witnessed a consensus on the so-called ‘end’ of the high theory of Derrida and Barthes? One consequence of this much written-about demise is, in the words of Brian Lennon, the waning of the “theory-effect” – that is to say, of the formerly more prevalent belief in research as writing, in knowledge borne specifically out of putting pen to paper. Yet it is precisely this belief that today distinguishes many theory-infused creative writing programmes, such as the MFA Nelson herself directs at the California Institute of the Arts. Such courses not only treat theory as a creative resource, but let it emerge out of the literary process of practice-based research.
This paper considers the paraliterary character of Bluets in the academic context of such programmes. While the book’s aphoristic qualities and recourse to enumeration hark back to Wittgenstein and Nietzsche, as well as Barthes’ Fragments d’un discours amoureux (1977), its fragmentary structure is also emblematic of an institutional framework in which theory and creative writing feed into each other. Formally, Bluets therefore stands as a symptom of the afterlife of theory and the paraliterary practices of poststructuralist writers. In pursuing this line of thought, the paper will endeavour to foster a better understanding of an understudied contemporary literary work and consider its use of fragmentation in its discursive lineage.
Vesna Ukić Košta
“What will I do while I’m lasting, Marianne?”: Fragmentary Writing in Janice Galloway's The Trick Is to Keep Breathing
The protagonist and narrator in Janice Galloway’s debut novel The Trick Is to Keep Breathing (1989), a teacher in her late twenties, suffers from severe depression following her lover’s death by drowning and eventually ends up in a psychiatric clinic. What we witness in the course of the novel is Joy Stone’s (oftentimes very witty) stream-of-consciousness, which is clearly reflected in the highly unusual typographical construction and the physical fragmentation of the text. As Donald Petrie claims, the author uses “a variety of typographical devices to convey the fragmentation of the protagonist’s self” (69). The unconventional layout of the pages in this novel mirrors Joy’s fractured state of mind, or in other words her way of tackling the tragic loss and the trivia of everyday life (on which the text focuses to a great extent). Throughout the novel, Galloway uses techniques and “textual tricks,” as Mary McGlynn calls them. It is interspersed with pages left partly blank; parts of the text are in italics, whereas some words/letters are written in boldface and others in lightface; short disconnected messages seem to bleed off typographically into the margins; excerpts from magazine articles (e.g. horoscope) are quoted verbatim; the novel abounds in theatre text dialogues; unfinished sentences are nowhere resolved. These textual “tricks” that Galloway deploys to “tell her protagonist’s story do not hinder, but serve to accentuate, the emotional dimension of the narrative” (Soon Ng). This presentation therefore sets out to explore the ways in which the physicality of The Trick Is to Keep Breathing (which evokes both T.S. Eliot’s modernism and Alasdair Gray’s postmodernism!) accentuates coping mechanisms which help the disembodied protagonist in the long and painful process of grieving and in the act of regaining a sense of emotional and physical sanity.
“to unshape him bit by bit”: The Fragmentary Page and Collapse of Structure in Ann Quin’s Passages and Christine Brooke-Rose’s Thru
This paper examines the ways in which Ann Quin’s Passages (1969) and Christine Brooke-Rose’s Thru (1975) use the aesthetics of fragmentation – both formally and thematically – to challenge the rigidity of received constructions and the impermeability of assumed boundaries. Passages is constructed from fragments of text: diary entries, impressions, allusions and marginalia, following two characters who may or may not be the same person. Thru is built upon theories of narratology, generated by multiple attendees of a creative writing class, containing two characters which might be constructing each other – and is visually experimental, featuring many pages of concrete prose. The visual elements lend the text a heightened form of nonlinearity; visual as well as linguistic echoes and allusions cause the text to constantly loop back on itself. In both of these novels, the spatial layout of the page is exploited in ways which disrupt the sequential flow of the typical linguistic reading process, the easy progression from one page to the next. Visual elements arrest the reader’s attention, demanding yet resisting interpretation – a formal technique which supports these authors’ positions on unknowability and the impossibility for fiction to represent reality.
In a 1991 interview with Maria del Sapio Garbero, Brooke-Rose claims the following for Thru: “I play with the notion of holding onto a structure until you fall through the empty space.” My paper will focus on how these two novels deal with the collapse and construction of systems, or the transitions between them – their concerns with boundaries, with the edges of a structure, where it threatens to unravel or become something else. This concept is formally manifested in their novels, which employ visual techniques, becoming like painting and other visual art forms. W.J.T. Mitchell’s concept of “spatial form,” in part a critique of Joseph Frank’s version of the concept, and Sharon Spencer’s notion of open structures as part of her conception of the “architectonic novel” will both provide useful ways of approaching the visual and structural elements of these texts. Brooke-Rose has written on the failure of overly rigid systems of thought, specifically narratology and structuralism. Thru enacts this narratological collapse on the page, while Passages disintegrates the boundaries between characters, landscapes, timezones and forms. Once-rigid structures become tellingly malleable in the service of these narratives, a malleability which pervades even the structure of the page, through typographic experimentation and visual play.
Paweł Wojtas (University of Warsaw)
Dead Uncertainties: Formal Fragmentation and Unreliable Narration in Coetzee.
This section attempts to close-read Coetzee’s formally experimental novels: Dusklands and In the Heart of the Country to interrogate the ways in which formal fragmentation, characteristic of modernist aesthetics, approximates mental instability of the protagonists. I propose that in these novels, to borrow a phrase from Alice Hall, “instability become[s] absorbed into the narrative technique itself” (2012, 98). Yet the formal experimentation does not exhaust the ethical and narrative possibilities of these works. It is in an entanglement of form, narration and autobiography that the logic of disability manifests itself. Attwell observes that in some of Coetzee’s fictions a sense of otherness in ethical encounters between the characters “is a function of editing, of late, tactical omissions: deletion is shown to be central to the process of invention” (2015, 124-5). In this sense, it is not only the fragmentariness of form and unreliability of narrators’ accounts that relies on disruption for its operation, but the process of writing itself depends for its literary effects on what it banishes to the outside in the process of edition; thus, like disability, being defined by what it lacks. In sum, this paper attempts to chart the complex metaphoric of disability registered in the coalescence of form, narration and writing.
The Multiple Camera Setup: Shifting Perspectives in Robert Coover’s “The Babysitter”