Fragments have been on my mind.
I’ve been re-editing my first book Fragments of Perception: a task I knew needed doing but I’d been putting off. I knew it needed doing because it was written in 2016, which is before I gained experience in editing, and I had haunted recollections of exclamation marks and oh so many semicolons. I’d been putting it off because I am no longer the person who wrote it, and I was vaguely worried that, despite the good reviews, it might be trash. When I got started, though, I was actually pleasantly surprised. It rekindled something in me that treasures the raw fragment of story, that isn’t overly concerned with structure and convention and reader-pleasing. Something that merely communicates waves of inspiration from the unconscious stores.
I’ve been trying to finish an essay I started months ago about journaling and Anaïs Nin. I got stuck on a bit where I note that whilst Nin’s fiction feels like the surreal voice of the unconscious mind – an honest reflection of how people think when no one is looking – her diaries do not. Her diaries, although personal, feel as though they were written to be read. Which they were: she welcomed her competing lovers to read about themselves in her ‘private’ pages, causing quite a drama. They key, I think, is that she had more than one diary on the go at any time and referred to them by colour. Her real private diaries are perhaps the ones she refers to when she says they help her find patterns, rhythms and progressions in thought.
My journals are a jumble of thoughts, dreams, emotions, plot and character notes, and social commentary. To an outsider, it’d be difficult to tell where one ends and another begins. As such, they offer very little in the way of narrative, and yet by taking notice of subtle shifts, there is a narrative. An intuitive one, not a showy, planned out one. In purposefully structured plots we entertain, but we lose something of the explorative spirit. In artful writing, boundaries must be broad enough to find the new but narrow enough to allow understanding. And so there must be some kind of container. Binah. Saturn. That’s what the book – and its language – is.
I think this is where I got stuck because it’s when I realised I crave freedom from self-aware articles. I crave the meandering, the choppy, the truth without intent; because that’s what our thoughts are like. I began to rebel against the very form I was trying to write. I stopped working under the sub-headings I’d created and let my thoughts on journaling run wild. I lost the point and found the fragment. I stopped trying to find a conclusion.
I read a tweet by author Lindsay Lerman that read:
something that’s lately been pulling me out of books that I am otherwise immersed in and finding incredible: when the narrative perspective (of/from unremarkable characters) is just a little too sophisticated and smart
In some instances, it seems (to me) to function as authorial refusal of the ruse of self-erasure, whether this is intended or not
And this hit me hard. I have absolutely been guilty of this in the past, but I could never quite put my finger on it beyond knowing something was ‘off’ with the writing.
First and foremost, I write fragments. They come to me as short intuitive streams, and my fingers type or the pen flows. When I come to collect these into a plausible narrative, my ego marches in so strongly that its voice can be heard above the original flow. So much so that in my current novel-in-progress, I have cut many of the original prose sequences and replaced them with explanations for the sake of clarity. I understand the concept of killing darlings, but what’s left when you cut the pretty prose, and what some would slam as navel-gazing, is ego talk. I use the term ‘ego’ here to mean the self-aware portion – the part that performs and plays the game of life and cares what other people think. Ego talk is not the art I want to be creating. I want to be true to the spirit of my fragments.
I’ve been gravitating towards reading books about writing that are not about writing and towards books that are written as fragments of thought bleeding into fiction. Calamities by Renee Gladman is illuminating. Drifts by Kate Zambreno. The Self Unstable by Elisa Gabbert. Minerva the Miscarriage of the Brain by Johanna Hedva.
I read a sequence of fragments written by author William H. Durya on his Substack this morning, and it really spoke to me. “I’ve been struggling, creatively, recently,” he says. “Multiple projects started, aborted. Nothing to show for it. Nothing to show you for it.” But the scraps he goes on to share do show something, I think. Separated by brief explanations and many footnotes, this kind of writing might not be traditional, but it is valuable. It gives you just enough context to glean something for yourself, to connect your own brain murmurings to those of someone else. I’m endlessly fascinated by it.
I suppose I’m just in love with the inner space as opposed to outer space.