The Satisfaction of Incompleteness: A Conversation with Kristina Marie Darling

Last month, I talked with Kristina Marie Darling over email about her new book Compendium (Cow Heavy Books, 2011)—topics ranged from the Romantic fragment to mourning rituals to collaboration to erasure.

Darling is also the author of the poetry collection Night Songs (Gold Wake Press, 2010).  She has been awarded fellowships from Yaddo, the Ragdale Foundation, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, as well as grants from the Vermont Studio Center and the Elizabeth George Foundation.  Her editorial projects include an anthology, narrative (dis)continuities: prose experiments by younger american writers (VOX Press, 2011), and a volume of critical essays forthcoming from Cambridge Scholars Press.

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Michael Leong:  First off, congratulations on the new book.  I was wondering if you could begin by discussing the title.  A “compendium” is, according to some definitions, an “abridgement or condensation of a larger work or treatise” or a “condensed representation, an embodiment in miniature.”  Reading through your book, I got the sense that I was encountering paratexts (and in the book you interestingly draw on several paratextual forms like the footnote and the glossary) to a post-gothic or Victorian novel—in other words, we have the textual fringes of a narrative but not the narrative itself.  What is the relationship between the work called Compendium and any larger work or main text?

Kristina Marie Darling: That’s a great question.  When I set out to write Compendium, I hoped that the book would allow the reader to imagine the main text.  Although he or she would hopefully be guided by the fragments found in the collection, I wanted it to become their creation.  Sigmund Freud once said (and I’m definitely paraphrasing here) that there is something inherently satisfying about incompleteness.  In his opinion, the supposedly missing elements in a work of art allow space for the audience’s imagination.  The spectator fills in the blanks with things that he or she wished were there.  

This idea, that there is beauty and freedom in incompleteness, definitely was influential for me as a reader and a writer.  I came to admire texts in which the reader experiences a sense of agency, often because he or she is asked to speculate or imaginatively reconstruct elements of a narrative.  This is definitely something that I was striving for in Compendium. Continue reading