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

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Art as Inheritance, part 2: Making New Art Appear as Old Text Disappears (as if by Magic!)

A friend recently alerted me to a post at Geek System (“Found Poetry in Magic: The Gathering Cards”): a fellow named Adam Parrish made some short poems by blacking out selected text on Magic cards:

Art by Adam Parrish (2011).

You can find more of Parrish’s poems here. He says of them, “[s]ome of these turned out well, some not so well,” but he’s being overly modest: most of the pieces are pretty witty, especially given the limited amounts of text he had to work with.

But what most caught my attention was the following claim in the Geek System post:

Adam Parrish, inspired by Austin Kleon’s famous newspaper blackout poems, partially blacked out Magic: The Gathering cards to create mini-poems.

Inspired by Austin Kleon? Who’s Austin Kleon? And don’t they mean, “inspired by Tom Phillips’s A Humument“?

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An Interview with Yuriy Tarnawsky, Part 2

Yuriy in La Sainte Chapelle, Paris, c. 1968.

Part 1

Let’s back up a bit. When did you move to the US?

I came to this country in 1952, having left Germany at age 17. My 18th birthday I celebrated on the boat a week before landing in New York. I had just graduated from High School. This was in February, and in the fall I enrolled at Newark College of Engineering (now New Jersey Institute of Technology) in the BS program in the department of Electrical Engineering. I didn’t feel I had any other choice. Having spent my formative years in post-WWII Germany, I saw of how little use was liberal arts education during times of crisis so, like most of my Ukrainian friends, I decided to study engineering. Being “technical” was the answer. This kind of thinking permeated the whole Ukrainian immigrant community. New Jersey had a lot of recent Ukrainian immigrants at that time; I believe that about 10% of the students at the college were Ukrainian. (Both my brother and stepbrother later followed in my footsteps.)

I had no particular interest in engineering as such (I hated to tinker around with things and never put together a radio as some of my friends did), but loved math, so I chose Electrical Engineering, which was the most theoretical of the engineering disciplines. I took lots of math and physics, and actually enjoyed the technical subjects more than the less technical ones, such as economics, “principles of engineering,” and even English. I preferred dealing with clear-cut issues. But there was another reason I went in for engineering. While in High School, I avidly read Dostoyevsky, and one of my favorite characters of his was the nihilist Kirilov from The Possessed, which I mentioned earlier. He, as you may recall, was an engineer. I fancied myself similar to Kirilov in many ways and like him wanted to be an engineer.

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Queer Studies and Surrealism

“A Queer Frame of Mind” (an introduction to Madder Love: Queer Men and the Precincts of Surrealism) by Peter Dubé  is an interesting essay about the convergences of queer sexuality, Gay liberationist theory, and the Surrealist Movement. The article addresses a particular strand of Gay liberationist theory that “represented for [him] the culture of desire gay men had begun to create, one that seemed related—somehow—to that proposed by the Surrealists, but unblinkered by Breton’s prejudices.” This movement was “committed to liberating desire and sexuality, sought to create new types of social networks, outside the norms of the family and rooted in fairly radical ideas about elective affection, community and friendship. It—daily—rediscovered the hidden spaces of the city and libidinously revivified them. It wanted to change overarching structures to conform more to the need for self-realization—self-creation even—than to an arbitrary idea of productivity. It was informed by the erotic and it was joyous.” Dubé exposes Breton’s anti-feminist and homophobic rhetoric but also explores “how the [Surrealist] movement was volatile and diverse. It hosted a wide variety of struggling viewpoints, saw a lot of schism and hurled accusations, and included queers of all kinds. To name just a few: Rene Crevel, Louis Aragon, Claude Cahun, Pierre Molinier. Moreover, in some ways it was very queer in its concerns.” He then underscores the ways in which Surrealism and Gay Liberation mirror each other in three ways, namely, both were movements “with desire at its very heart,” “were self-consciously interested in subjectivity and the way the mind operates,” and both “share an interest in the way these things—subjectivity and desire—affect the world.” Dubé ends his essay by meditating on the many ways Surrealism remains a living movement.