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.


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

Contemporary Verse Novels and Sentences and Fragments: Charles Simic’s DIME STORE ALCHEMY

I’m not really sure why I keep writing about “Contemporary Verse Novels,” because I’m not that interested in labeling things. But it’s as good a category as any, and I like the idea that books that already exist as “poems” might also benefit from being associated with “novels.” So, on to the latest that fits the bill.

Dime Store Alchemy was recommended to me by Brian Clements, whose recommendations I’m always interested in. Knowing how much he thinks of this book only made me that much more eager to read it. And in the midst of reading so much poetry that confused me (I’ve been pretty loud and clear about how I’m not the best reader of poetry, about how poetry often baffles me), I was really, well, just happy, to open this book, read the first poem, and feel good about life. No anxiety, no confusion, no bewilderment. Instead, just a solid reading experience, and the thrill of knowing that the rest of the book to follow would be related, that I would not be reading standalone poems but a collection of poems on the same topics and themes and subject — namely, the book’s subtitle: “The Art of Joseph Cornell.”

I’ve dog-eared so many pages I don’t even know where to start. Maybe what I’ll do is include my favorite sentences and fragments from all the pages I’ve dog-eared. Maybe these sentences will create a poem of their own. Who knows? Maybe they’ll offer a pretty good representation of the book overall. If not, at least there’s this:  Joseph Cornell went all over New York collecting objects to put in his boxes, found objects that became his art, his collage work; so traveling through this book about his process, and then gathering bits of “found” text, only to piece these bits together, seems like a nice sort of homage. I hope that’s how people interpret this anyway. So, here goes:

On the streets Cornell walked forty years ago, there were still medical leech dealers; importers of armadillo meat and ostrich eggs — all over in a flash but evoking a strong feeling — unusual feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment, unexpected and more abiding than usual. Today it could be something as ordinary and interesting as an old thimble. In them the night is always falling. Here’s everything the immigrants carried in their suitcases and bundles to these shores and their descendants threw out with the trash: Poetry: three mismatched shoes at the entrance of a dark alley. We were left with the storming sea that made no sound, and a beautiful woman on a long, empty beach whose tears rolled down silently as she watched me falling asleep in my mother’s arms. Ahead, nothing but wind, sky, and more sand. The great ballerina, Emma Livry, a protegee of Taglioni, for instance, died in flames while dancing the role of a night butterfly.

Yes, I think this does accomplish what I wanted it to. Well, when I read these sentences, these fragments, I can associate them with the poems they come from, and I get the larger experience again of the entire book, which I, like Brian Clements, highly recommend. Brian recommended it to me because he thought it might help me as I thought through some of my ideas about book-length poems. I’m recommending, though, to anyone who has ever found himself alone in a city and wandering, to anyone who has ever picked something up randomly and out of curiosity, at a garage sale or on the ground or in a store, to anyone who ever wanted to put some object in a box for safekeeping, to anyone who has ever put something on display. If you are someone who has done any of these things, then this book just might be for you.


Why Do You Need So Many Cinemas?

“Evolution of Dance” by Judson Laipply (2006) (still).

In my last post on this topic, I argued that cinema can be redefined as “the cinematic arts,” which would include not only movies and short films, but also music videos, commercials, TV programs, experimental film and video, installation art, video games, Flash animations, animated gifs, and even “nonelectrical” forms of moving images, such as flipbooks and camera obscuras. This redefinition raises a few questions:

  1. Why should we do this? What would this expansive reconsideration get us?
  2. Can it be done? Can the same critical apparatus that we use to describe and analyze feature films be successfully applied to, say, animated gifs? Or camera obscuras?
  3. What would the be the common currency of cinema?

After the jump, I’ll try answering each of these questions.

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Brevity, part 7: Slow Motion

Note: This post is partly a reply to a question someone asked me, back-channel, about slow motion, but also partly due to my general interest in how time works in narrative, and in brevity and stasis (and “the ongoing”).

Slow motion is created by presenting film footage at a slower rate than it was shot at. The principle is as old as cinema itself. In 1879, Eadweard Muybridge invented the zoopraxiscope, which allowed him to project his 1870s photographic motion studies as animations. (Film projection is, interestingly, older than film-capture cameras.) It was observed immediately that repeating the photos 2:1 (double-printing), or spinning the zoopraxiscope slowly, would slow the motion down.

An aside: In conducting his motion studies, Muybridge lined up multiple cameras that were activated by tripwires. (The motion picture camera wouldn’t be invented until 1890.) This same technique would later be resurrected as “Time-Slice” or “Bullet-Time,” popularized by the Wachowskis in The Matrix.

After the jump I’ve arranged a partial history of slow motion in cinema. It isn’t intended to be an exhaustive list; rather, I’ll point out what I consider memorable or otherwise significant uses of slow motion.

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Experimental Fiction as Genre and as Principle

Christopher Higgs at HTMLGIANT recently posted this question: “If you were teaching a class on American experimental fiction, what texts would you choose, and why?” He went on to list a set of possible books for an “Introduction to American Experimental Fiction” course:

Ishmael Reed – Mumbo Jumbo
William S. Burroughs – The Soft Machine
Kathy Acker – Blood and Guts in High School
Carole Maso – Aureole
Jean Toomer – Cane
David Markson – This Is Not A Novel
Gertrude Stein – Tender Buttons
Ben Marcus – The Age of Wire and String

This post won’t be about adding or subtracting books from his list (although I’d suggest Markson’s Wittgenstein’s Mistress over This Is Not a Novel, and Carole Maso’s The Art Lover or AVA over Aureole.) Rather, I want to talk about experimental fiction as a genre.

Because Chris’s question reminds me of a debate that comes up frequently in US experimental film circles…

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Brevity, Part 6: Roundhay Garden Scene, ctd.(well, it’s short)

Roundhay Garden Scene is hardly the only short film that transcends its brief running time. Here are seven other shorts whose impacts are much larger, and last much longer, than their respective running times might indicate.

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