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Quarter After Eight is an annual literary journal devoted to the exploration of experimental writing in all its permutations. We celebrate work that directly challenges the conventions of language, style, voice, or idea in literary form. This blog is a place to engage in conversations about the work we publish, as well as the work that inspires us.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Ever-Smaller Screens of Comprehension

At our AWP panel on experimental writing this past February a lively conversation arose about the experiments technology and new media are making possible. In Volume 17, Joe Bonomo writes about a childhood memory from fractured perspectives that include those seen through the lens of Wikipedia, Twitter, the Track Changes function on a Word document. He writes:
Near the swing set during recess. N. on the swings. She swung and her plaid skirt lifted and I saw her sky-blue underwear. She squealed.
Mon Sep 20 11:01:23 2010 via web

Joe Bonomo is remembering N. on the swing set and that thing that happened.
4 hours ago clear

st&ing nr d swing set durin recess @ st andrew d apostle. N. s on d swings. she pumps her lgz n grips d chain n leans bac n d wind n her hair streams n she swings upward n her plaid skirt lifts +I C her sky-blue undies.  

Later in the essay he adds:
Tweets, updates, emails, texts, confessional, autobiographical. Montaigne in his tower; me at my computer. Have we reached the saturation point? Ur-stories are collapsing on top of other ur-stories. We must be made to matter. Will the future of personal writing be composed of images, flash, tinier paragraphs, infinitely more pixels, infinitely more memory, smaller screens of comprehension?

Though the essay makes use of these ever-smaller screens of comprehension, it also celebrates the search for a holistic understanding all these screens complicate, but don’t necessarily obliterate. Bonomo quotes Degas: “It is very well to copy what one sees; it’s much better to draw what one has retained in one’s memory. It is a transformation in which imagination collaborates with memory.”

Post-modernisms, deconstructionism, so many other theoretical –isms have insisted our reality has become increasingly fractured, mutable, and uncertain. Literature only reminds us that all an illusion. Is it delusional to think the chaos of new media in collaboration with imagination and memory might provide a way to make our lives matter again? Is it na├»ve to believe in a saturation point where fragmented perspectives coalesce into a fixed meaning?

3 comments:

  1. I'm not sure what to say in response to the first question posed there in the last paragraph, but I can take a stab at responding to the second. I think it is a little naive to suggest that we could build things up or break things down into any kind of fixed meaning. I'm thinking here of "what matters" as scientists think of matter--it is all around us and it's not going anywhere anytime soon, not matter how we try to manipulate it or conceive of it. We can keep breaking matter (or what matters, or our lives, or our imagination or memory, for that matter) into smaller and smaller fragments, but anyone willing and able to take a step back at any point will see the patterns. I'm imagining the realm of "what matters," I guess, as a Chuck Close painting here, an imagine that still means something no matter how fragmented the image becomes.

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  2. I haven't done a systematic study,so these may be generalizations, but it seems to me that lately women are better are better at composing and living a coherent and consistent narrative, even when the pieces are chaotic, fragmented, and even painful; whereas many men live more fragmentedly and their story(ies) of self change almost daily. I ponder the underlying gender constructions of this...

    Even in academic writing, literature and art, what I've noticed is that it is often men, such as Jameson, who are talking about the fragments and the mirrors. Women seem to make more use of pastiche and collage. Perhaps a counter example is Eco, who does seem to compose wholes out of fragments, but his scholarship is also grounded in historical narratives, and he explicitly addresses memory in his work. Examples to complicate my generalizations are welcome!

    I also think of recent political editorials, invoking Huxley and Orwell, in which the writers suggest that contemporary politics and consumer culture intentionally encourages us to forget - or never learn - history, so better to break us down (fragment us) in order to sell to us to fill the lack of whole. As well as to deprive of us the historical knowledge we need to properly critique exploitative power structures. If all we have is the present moment, a fragment, and it cannot be connected to what came before or what came later, then, can it be said to matter, which I take to mean: making sense/meaning of what has come before or having an impact on what comes next.

    In all, I don't think that fragmented points coalesce, without us consciously reflecting and putting stories together in a way that matters. The process itself is both an artistic and political endeavor (not that I think the two can ever be separated) and thus a way of mattering. Several people have now said that deconstruction was a necessary process, but so many people only deconstructed...what you're suggesting is a way of attending to the work that must come next.

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  3. "If all we have is the present moment, a fragment, then, can it be said to matter"... What I like about Bonomo's piece is that even though he describes his mode as fragmentary, to me it feels more as if the moment is being endlessly unfolded. It seems kind of zen, to go more and more fully into the moment, which has no past and no future, just is. That doesn't really get us closer to meaning in a linguistic sense, but it does allow us to find a whole that hasn't been co-opted by the entertainment industrial complex.

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