April 8, 2012
Fragmentation/Juxtaposition: Creating Completeness from Collage (A Collage)
Tony Hoagland, in his essay “Fragment, Juxtaposition, and Completeness,” reminds us of the tension that is generated between fragments that have been brought into a conversation with one other from seemingly disparate worlds; he categorizes fragment as the unit, juxtaposition as the method, and collage as the result. I love how Hoagland goes on to say that even complete items (such as independent clauses; such as a happy marriage, maybe; an arrogant cosmology even), when brought into unfamiliar surroundings, acquire a sense of fragmentation: that fragmentation, he insists (and I would agree), is the modern state and the reason why modern poetry often feels like a collage itself. Like “The Waste Land,” which I always read at least excerpts from during the first week of April; remembering when I brought that poem into a class of high school sophomores –– and, oh, what tension was created, then!
Hoagland writes that, in a collage, if transitions are not provided for or if they are perhaps omitted later; when these guides are, in either case, denied the reader –– the connection between the parts becomes implicit rather than made explicit. I often play this game with students; in certain classes I assign work that I think will be compelling, and then ask the students how they think these works work together. High school freshmen would always offer the same response: “Someone dies in everything we’ve read this year,” and when I thought of the reading list for English 9 –– Of Mice and Men (Lenny), A Tale of Two Cities (Sydney Carton et al.), Romeo and Juliet (Romeo and Juliet), and the morbid short stories and Emily Dickinson and, and, and –– I would always have to concede their point. And then ask, “But what else –– what else is there, besides death, kids?” Perhaps this is how the poet, too, can be shocked into recognition along with the reader: how the poet writes his own Zen koan, essentially, and constructs the means to his enlightenment.
In church this morning, the minister was telling a story about a woman who, when facing some unnamed (or have I just forgotten it now?) adversity, was told by her mother (I may be confusing the relationship between these two; it was early; the 8:30 service) to boil three pots of water. Into one, the mother threw carrots; into the second, eggs; into the third, coffee beans. Then she asked the woman (her daughter), “Which one are you? Will you get soft/weak like the carrot; hard like the egg; or will you become fragrant and turn the water to something richer like the coffee beans?” For a moment I thought, I hope I am like the coffee beans, and then, I could really use some more coffee, and finally, What does this have to do with the resurrection of Jesus? The minister began to talk about survival, and for the first time I began to see the Easter story as one of survival; not that Jesus was resurrected even, but that he survived, which, when substituted for resurrection, might sound less miraculous but, to me, to the students and friends I know, we know that survival can be a testament in itself.
And Jesus was coffee beans, I suppose. (And not a zombie either, as some friends insist every year on Facebook.)
After church, my family went to Hannah G’s in Ventnor where I had pancakes for the first time since Fat Tuesday. They were so delicious; I think Eostre, the goddess of dawn, herself hand-delivered them to me –– as I drank my hot coffee like a prasad. Then called my friend Gerri, who is going in for her penultimate chemo session tomorrow. Somehow, in this juxtaposition of thoughts, I am now associating coffee with survival, which is why I wanted to call Gerri. And also now associating coffee with Jesus, which makes me think of dinner last night with my friend Emily when, near the end of the evening, we expressed a mutual desire to become Catholic/Catholic again, for Em (or was it just me wanting it?); and, when I admitted that they wouldn’t have me, said, “So, Episcopalian, then.” Perhaps it is the same reason I wanted to start a book group; but then our group stopped reading the books. I want something stricter than that; want something more than just myself. Maybe I want there to be consequences, somehow.
And, still, there must be more than just survival; and Mike Wallace died today (or yesterday maybe; there was an excellent piece on Camus in this week’s New Yorker). Must be more than just to not be beaten. My friend Kim and I have gotten into this lovely-intense discussion over e-mail on happiness and its cost (see also: happiness, risks involved). Because I wrote: “I still think, There must be more than just surviving,” and Kim responded, “Sometimes, it seems to me, reminding ourselves what it feels like to really be alive goes in direct contradiction to what it means to survive. And, of course, the delicacy of the game, consists of finding that balance between the two.”