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Thoughts on Fragmentalism

leaf1We all know that we might not see the forest for the trees, but there’s also the possibility of not seeing a leaf for the tree.

In visual arts, a far more pretentious field of artistic endeavour than the workman-like crafters of sentences using the every day commerce of communication, words like Pointillism and Cubism offer the Cognoscenti just one more way of proving how in-the-know they really are. There is the appeal of the Haiku, and its idea of the seashell containing the ocean, that they sometimes enjoy offering their fellows. Naming what you’re reading now Literary Fragmentalism is a sad concession to the Inteligencia, and their power to bequeath legitimacy with generations yet to come, but in every other respect the author wishes to say to these arbiters of the artistic and philosophical, a heart felt, fuck you very much. Which is meant sincerely, though the lightness of tone might persuade otherwise. The babbling ears of these interlopers will hear what they will.

Space surrounds every object in the world, and space should surround our ideas so that we don’t perpetuate the illusion that space is not required in how we place an idea into the minds of the reader. Otherwise we begin to think of the mind as a black sack in which everything just gets tossed. We withdraw what we want by fumbling around a blind hand. Better to think of it as putting a seed into soil. Give it space from the other seeds. Don’t put a new seed in the roots of an old tree. And what’s the point of throwing the seeds into a rapidly moving river? Why would you do that? Better to hold them in your palm for a few years, until available ground is found.

There’s a spectrum of green in foliage, and of brown in the wood of plants and trees, and a release into exuberance in the flowering; but there is still something to be said for the appreciation of the sun drinking shades of green, and the textures of bark against the back of the hand. The point is, don’t look too long at the flowers. Don’t allow yourself to be dazzled by the exotic language of colours. Look to the green of a leaf and let that rest on your heart. Let your soul take on the feel of bark. It gets washed out with colours, and has the tendency to begin to feel like nothing.

The word manifesto will appear nowhere in what you’re reading… other than in the sentence already read. And it is apologized for. Also for the implication it now sheds across what proceeded it and what might follow. It’s not a pleasant word. It seems to generate images of men festering with agendas. The author would not like to be thought of as such. Again, he apologizes for telling you what this will not be. He knows what you’re now thinking, and he apologizes for that also.

Do we construct our lives around our obituaries? Do we put a question mark between the two dates in our tombstone, but merely lack the stonemason’s skills with the appropriate tools? Do we have an idea of ourselves as one constant person for the whole of our long lives? Would it perhaps benefit us to occasionally see the fragments, without always being so respectful of those who point out the Big Picture? Is it possible that such a thing does not exist? Has anyone seen the Big Picture, despite all the directions to look at it, like it was a painting hung on the wall right before us? Is it possible, that actually, all we have at any point of time, are fragments? Would it benefit us to examine them more closely? Do you still believe in the Big Picture?

A word can be beautiful in itself. Even a common word like ‘often’. If we hear it in a sentence we enjoy hearing, like, ‘I miss you often’, we might look at it afresh. We can dwell on it as a separate thing, that is chosen to connect the other things around it, all the while remaining discreet, and always and ever itself, never drawing attention to itself for the sake of attention. ‘Often’ is never the point, or if it’s forced into it, it doesn’t want to be. Allowing us a choice every time it comes to the mouth, of whether we’ll touch the teeth with the tongue for the T, or breathe the word out, without it. Both are acceptable, which is such a rare diplomacy for a word to have. And it can be said with an indrawn breath as easily as with an exhalation. It asks us to consider the general, without implying the constant, or even sporadic, which seems just plain lazy. So, words like these can often be little things in themselves, like our green leitmotif.

A bee has a kind of intelligence, but sentences are only made of things like pollen, honey, flowers, winds, birds, the Sun, the Queen, and all of these are like Eskimo snow, the monk’s God, the 343 flavours of ice cream, or the 97 words in Sanskrit for love. We should think of the bee settling into a flower. We should think about the bee coming back to the hive with a mouth full of pollen. We should think about what’s in his heart when he sees the Queen. Each of the bee’s words is an exercise in the use of Fragmentalism.

Sometimes even a terrible film can transcend itself in a moment. Offer up a perfect fragment we can take away from it that perhaps a thousand better films do not. A film like ‘Made in Heaven,’ gives us a scene on a street in which two lovers may never meet because they have never met outside of heaven. The way in which they feel each other on this New York rush hour street streaming with grime yellow taxis and rag like wandering lost pedestrians, and do not feel each other, and almost meet, and almost never meet. This one moment in time could go on. Could last life times. These lovers, ruined without each other, could be cast into the world a thousand different times like actors into roles they can never truly inhabit, and will be drawn to each other, but always miss that final moment of contact. And why this may be beautiful needs to be left like that. Not part of a film anymore, that no one remembers, in a world of better films with better narratives with better production values, and more complete. It only survives as a fragment.

Any contemplation of fragments should include a lengthy discussion on fractals. Or, failing that, an encouraging shove in the back, like you might give a friend contemplating a walk through the woods that could be interrupted by rain, to go and check out fractals for themselves. The rain might give you different ideas about the leaf. And you can’t keep your socks dry your whole life. Is this what you want to tell your grandchildren. My socks were never wet? You can’t surround yourself with umbrellas. Trying to fill your pockets with them is just plain silly. But it is true, nevertheless, that umbrellas are themselves full of fractals. You could just stay home and open them, but then face the consequences of the bad luck thus generated. So, there’s this friendly shove in your back.

One can ask, what’s the virtue of the leaf? Are we to become treehuggers of the most smelly arborphillic kind? Is the author asking us to go out and collect a specimen from the local park, and returning with it, meditate upon its uniqueness, and only then, after years of contemplation, move to the page and present us with thirty or forty precisely chosen words, describing this perfect fragment of a park? The author replies, no. He’s not asking for treehugging of any kind. He showers regularly. But, if anyone goes out and does all this — discovers the virtue of the leaf — he’d be the first person to read it.

There’s the possibility that nihilists will come along and hijack the whole thing. Idea-jack Literary Fragmentalism before it’s rightful practitioners take it and make it their own. Nihilists do it all the time. Even the ones that don’t call themselves that, and use safer sounding terms like Realists. Maybe they think it’s cool to point out the stupidity of everyone else. How fearful we are to clutch at our souls and continue to hold onto dreams of God. How deluded by our cowardice in facing the lonely everlasting oblivion of one life destined to die a meaningless fragment. But nihilists aren’t cool, whether wearing the traditional black garb, or disguised as a nominal leaf-gazer. But the nihilists can break anything down to pieces and say, look you fearful upwardly whispering palm-pressers, everything is broken pieces. Fragmentalism is about pieces, and thereby they will own it. But it seems pretty obvious when you go out there beyond the reach of their hectoring voices, calling everyone scaredy-cats (similar in so many ways to the aforementioned agenda festering men). The leaf doesn’t make sense without the tree. The tree doesn’t make sense without the sun. And the sun doesn’t make sense without us. Where are the nihilist’s disconnected, meaningless pieces?

There is a faith in fragments. They can’t help it. It’s like a bee’s penchant for hexagons. Even he doesn’t know why. That’s just the way you make honey. Things connect. If in Fragmentalism things are separated it is only so that they can be fit together again. The assembly of the things should be completed by the reader. Not by way of a cheap method of Ikea manufacture. Not for the sake of convenience or brevity. If it’s for the sake of anything, it’s for new connections. Thoughts never previously put together. Memories never before wrapped in the same lolly wrapper.

A fragment allows the reader to press a fingerprint into the wet ink of the text.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

If you like this piece, or support Overland’s work in general, please subscribe or donate.

AS Patric is the award-winning author of The Rattler & other stories (Spineless Wonders, 2011), Las Vegas for Vegans (Transit Lounge, 2012) and Bruno Kramzer (Finlay Lloyd, 2013).

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Comments

  1. This has been rolling around my head today Alec – as I attempt to reconcile myself with publishing several sections of a larger work as very small (possibly alarmingly out of context)extracts in different journals. I hope, in the spirit of this, that fingerprints are weightily applied. Food for thought.

  2. Just wanted to say that I thought your piece in the latest Overland, The Unbearable Whiteness of Beauty, was one of the best examples of Fragmentalism I’ve seen. Great work Maxine no matter what we call it.

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