Tuesday, July 01, 2003

What makes this object the opposite of Baby is that its existence is derived entirely from the observation of external features – something that “the physical manifestation of the inside of a song” problematizes – whereas Baby is constructed conversely, as much out of what she does & doesn’t see or say – for example, failing to identify the person who takes the object from Baby & returns it to the shelf other than as “a voice from behind her” – as from actual depiction of her actions.


Such devices are as old as modernism:


Through the fence, between the curling flower spaces, I could see them hitting. They were coming toward where the flag was and I went along the fence. Luster was hunting in the grass by the flower tree. They took the flag out, and they were hitting. Then they put the flag back and they went to the table, and he hit and the other hit. Then they went on, and I went along the fence.


In The Sound and the Fury, Benjamin’s developmental disability disrupts his ability to create coherent schema from the actions he sees. The reader must then read through him &, in turn, read his character through precisely these disruptions & distortions. Yet Faulkner in 1929 quickly resolves the character back into a normative model of narrative types, even as, in places, the author (rather than the character) pauses to linger over the possibility of an infinite sentence, the “flaw” in Faulkner that lets you know he could imagine further than these cinematic family tragedies, even if he couldn’t quite bring himself to act on his vision.


Like Faulkner, Harryman throughout her writing uses the figures of family in an almost chesslike fashion to articulate narrative configurations. But here – & this is where I think the “prose poem” comes in – even if Harryman’s interest lies in the construction of Baby, it does not seek to integrate this character unproblematically into a figure of recognizable psychological tropes. Where the opacity of Faulkner’s passage drops away the instant the reader clues into the figure of a developmentally disabled adult & his handler trailing along watching a game of golf, the resistance of “a kachina doll with green pants and something earnest about it moving forward” will not dissolve. The opacity in Faulkner is merely apparent, a tease. In Harryman, it’s a commitment & this makes all the difference in the world.