Staff Book Reviewer Spencer Dew is the author of the novel Here Is How It Happens (Ampersand Books, 2013), the short story collection Songs of Insurgency (Vagabond Press, 2008), the chapbook Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres (Another New Calligraphy, 2010), and the critical study Learning for Revolution: The Work of Kathy Acker (San Diego State University Press, 2011). His Web site is spencerdew.com.
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“‘Fragment,’ a noun, but possessing the force of a verb that is nonetheless absent: brisure, a breaking without debris, interruption as speech when the pause of intermittence does not arrest becoming but, on the contrary, provokes it in the rupture that belongs to it,” writes Maurice Blanchot in his essay “The Fragment Word”:
Whoever says fragment ought not say simply the fragmenting of an already existent reality or the moment of a whole still to come. This is hard to envisage due to the necessity of comprehension according to which the only knowledge is knowledge of the whole, just as sight is always a view of the whole. For such comprehension, the fragment supposes an implied designation of something that has previously been or will subsequently be a whole—the severed finger refers back to the hand, just as the first atom prefigures and contains in itself the universe. Our thought is therefore caught between two limits: the imagining of the integrity of substance and the imagining of a dialectical becoming.
Consider an example, an application of this idea—this tension between the readerly need to fill white space with narrative and the savoring of the hint as hint—a characteristic line for this little book of fragments, isolated footnotes, and imaginative definitions:
The dream gave rise to a lapse in the accuracy of her meticulous ledger. A velvet ribbon nestled among its luminous white pages.
Kristina Marie Darling is one of our strongest young writers. Strong in the sense a magician is strong: not a
master of stage tricks, but a worker of subtle miracles. Levitation, for instance, above the curb, above a
wind-rippled reflecting pond.
She gives us objects as moods, as vertigo, as tides. “A beveled mirror,” for instance, set like a gem into a fragment, coupled with a clause that tantalizes, seeming to imply narrative, story, teasing out, deliciously, the jouissance: “which she mounted above the violet tablecloth.”
She gives us that art of collage, which, painstakingly assembled, while juxtaposing, appears organic, a melded whole. “The wilted corsage. Every shrine burned to the ground.” Music all the more exquisite because it appears to be accidental, a wonder, an uncanny spark.
And there is romance, and there is mystery, but those are the terms of a cheap review, a critic, helpless, finding even citation to offer insufficient witness to the experience. How can one talk about a book like this? To quote? “His letters were found beneath an armoire in the flooded house. Brackets now indicate the illegible, missing, or ruined portions of their correspondence.” To offer up the text itself, a fragment of a fragment, like the cut edge of a puzzle piece, as if a mirror or a polished plane of metal? Here “noctuary” is defined, in part, as “4. To experience a heightened awareness of one’s senses. 5. To ask, to consider, to be led away from. 6. To examine a familiar painting—to imagine a blank canvas in its place. 7. To select and omit, as a poet would.”
“The restraint inherent in his declaration seemed emblematic, a metaphor. A dark ribbon fastening the pages
of an unremarkable history.” The emblematic, as if etched onto the surface of an object, a token. Yet the
edges of these things shift, like a house at night, murmuring, the structure itself, the immovable in the slow
and intractable process of movement. A watermark as emblematic of the passage of history, history itself as a
cold expanse, a set of brackets as the ruined shrine to some mournful but meticulously categorized saint, but
also brackets as brackets and saint as unnamed cipher for affliction, pleading, tears, loss.
The unpublished or the empty, be it a house or a frame, and correspondence, in terms of likewise unpublished or empty—with brackets to mark the lost sections—letters, intimate written exchanges, but also in terms of a correspondence between things, that magic predicated on mimetic relation, sympathy. To gesture toward one thing and open another: “beloved. The raison d’être of the melancholic’s affliction. Consider the graceful line of his wool coat, its fabric dark against the towering snowdrifts.” Or, as in billiards, to shift constellations, clacking like bone against bone, around the subject of desire: “ocean. Now iced over, this body of water was said to reflect the imperceptible radiance of their courtship. Compare, in its present state, to a discarded necklace, pendant, or charm bracelet.”
Enamel, lacquer, latches, compartments and cages, captivity: “a miniature dancer twirled to the same
Tchaikovsky suite. The steps were mechanical, but in another sense, authentic. Its feet had been fastened with
tiny silver nails.” Like flotsam washed up with and by the tide; night: when the cold froth at the
wave’s lip sparkles reflections of stars.
Blanchot again: “Speech as archipelago: cut up into the diversity of its islands and thus causing a surging of the great open sea; this ancient immensity, the unknown always still to come, designated for us only by the emergence of the earth’s infinitely divided depths.”
Official Kristina Marie Darling Web Site
Official Ravenna Press Web Site
Cornell didn’t build boxes the size of telephone booths. And Darling’s book is all about measures: in
music, in time, the craters that look like tiny pock-marks on the surface of the moon, lenses and devices, maps.
(“I had wanted to preserve the measurements, their pristine order. Each of the charts was a tiny mirror
held to the sun’s oblique orbit.”) This book should be miniature, the size its style demands, rather
than the unfortunate and bluntly ugly oversize format of BlazeVOX, its publisher. The images get distorted, go
grey and cheaply blurred. On pages that are primarily empty—Darling fringes them with footnotes; no text,
just notation; the scholarly apparatus as the horizon of poetry; seven chapters, two images filed under
“Illustrations” (Appendix A) and two under “Maps & Diagrams” (Appendix B); a book woven
from orphaned quotations, fragments, definitions, plus little tricks: “A commonly held belief about divine
providence. For a more detailed exposition, see Appendix D.”—this format, rendering them so wide,
makes them glaringly vacant, a pulpy yellowed color, like bad teeth, a sick grin that spreads across the desk
with only three footnotes in the far right corner, breaking it, and a page number, above, less like a moon than
some fluorescent atrocity. That on page 33 there is an extra space between “beneath” and “a
plaster” stands out, like a sore, as does the general strange spread of the lines of type and—this
will be nearly my last lament about the atrocity of the book’s design—all the apostrophes are
straight, uncurved, like metal collar stays. As you read, the cover bends back, wrinkles, wounds: the size of
this book is akin, then, to how certain maps just won’t fold back right, and tear. As physical thing, a
book should be, first and for its own sake, handsome, an object of art, but secondly it should also reflect the
experience its content seeks to convey. This is a book that has had a disservice done to it: its transformation
to book, to physical artifact, was a process of marring.
“It was then I realized that documentation was an unforgiving task. The mercury contained in the image left tiny fissures on my delicate hands.” What we have here are ruins, then, scattered across a wasteland. Expansionary glosses, notations on assorted and unknown sources. Wisps of what triggers the narrative impulse, strewn like shards of colored glass atop the snow—“A little-known Anglo-Saxon myth, in which a skein of thread serves to guide her through a incandescent labyrinth. The sky spreading out before her like the vaulted ceilings of a cathedral.”—exist alongside concrete elements—gears, a moon, a marble staircase, “An unspecified type of steel dial,” “a shattered lens”—and the objective garnered for the sake of what one might call, after Blanchot, unworking—“Vernier. A device that allowed for the mass production of maps.” Here the act of naming mystifies further. The thing is occluded with charm, rather than brought to the sterile light of science. Enchantment. In such an unlikely place. And, again, as ruins, as scraps, as pieces that too often read like parts of some potential but abandoned Darling assemblage: unpublished correspondence, a little-known film, a dream, a definition, a gesture which reads less like a dance than a warm-up at the barre. Here the artist stretches: “Within the box, they found a small vial of ether.”
Once at a private art party where professional caterers replaced crisp bacon, endlessly, on an elevated platter, I and the writer Jeremy Biles—who had curated a gallery show on wounds and the relation of wounding the sacrality as he finished his book on Georges Bataille and “the sacrifice of form”—were taken upstairs, past a storage closet in which hung a Cindy Sherman, not currently deemed worthy to display, to the bedroom of the hostess. There, she showed us some of the pieces she had purchased from the Cornell estate, from his object files, potential elements of assemblage: a ball, some cut paper items, a wooden silhouette of a bird, or two, I think. That bedroom, of such a rich person, was awkwardly large-scale: cufflinks, a hyperbolically expensive clock. There were several boxes, too, Cornells, “kinetic,” we were told, and we were instructed to handle them, but handed out gloves, by our hostess, and given a brief lecture on the necessity of caution.
Framing can spoil everything—stab wonder, poison enchantment, crack an optical instrument such that the perspective skews. Kristina Marie Darling is a remarkable writer, but this book becomes a parody, a deceptive form. Not only is the context wrong, but the lines inside read like discards, haphazardly categorized—files, in process, rather than the sort of exquisitely balanced collages Darling, like Cornell, consistently constructs.
Official Kristina Marie Darling Web Site
Official BlazeVOX [books] Web Site