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Minimalism and beyond: A discussion on two postmodern works of American fiction. Part-1

Minimalism and beyond: A discussion on two postmodern works of American fiction. Part-1

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Published by Dilshan Boange

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Published by: Dilshan Boange on May 11, 2011
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Minimalism and beyond: A discussion on two postmodern works of American fiction.(Part 1)
By Dilshan Boange
‘Art for art’s sake’ is a line that we are more than familiar with and the adversities such outlooks meet inthe face of market forces. ‘Literature-for-the sake-of-literature’ is the core slogan at the heart of the USA based publishing operation Brown Paper Publishing, an independent literary press that was not built onthe sole basis of profit motive. Clearly a space for the ‘alternative’ in what could seem the torrentiallyoppressive streams of modern print capitalism Brown Paper Publishing represents a number of authorswhose work present the writer’s vision unselfconsciously, in a rawness that disallows dilution to fit inwith popular requirements of the market place. How much commercial success Brown Paper Publishinghas developed so far, I do not know. What I believe can be safely assumed is that their authors have not asyet gained a notable readership in Sri Lanka. I have not as yet come across any of their publications in bookshops in Sri Lanka though the product quality of their productions would certainly meet thestandards that local book publishers and sellers would be conscious of as a factor that relates tomarketing. After all none will deny that the ‘look of the cover’ isn’t the first thing that gets a browser started on a subconscious judging process of the book as a work.
The works of Sarah D’Stair and Pablo D’Stair
In this two part article I wish to discuss a novel each of two authors represented by Brown Paper Publishing. The works are –Hand to Bone by Sarah D’Stair and Pablo D’stair’s Leo Rache, works of fiction that would be categorized by present day publishing industry criteria as novellas.What merits for discussion the two selected works of two authors who would be virtually unknownamongst the general English literature readerships in Sri Lanka? In my opinion it is the scope the twoworks concerned would present in respect of certain postmodernist features. The interest that is graduallydeveloping in Sri Lanka towards generating more discussion on the lines of postmodernist literarydevelopment may find some contributions through this article’s foci.The themes of content and techniques of (narrative) form in postmodernist literature is by no meanssimple enough to count off from one’s fingers as it should always be kept in mind that what is perceivedand viewed as postmodernism and the postmodern age is still a trajectory in an ongoing process. Andtherefore what I intent to make the groundings to comment on the two novellas, are related to a selectedfew themes such as –subjectivity, identity and minimalism.
“Hand to Bone”
Sarah D’stair’s “Hand to Bone” struck me as a one of a kind from works of (experimental) fiction I haveencountered so far. The narrator remains unnamed through the narrative like the protagonist in KnutHamsung’s “Sult” (Hunger) the novel that birthed the Modern(ist) novel with ‘stream of consciousness’.The banality of the events are severely mundane and present no discernible ‘plot’. From a point of cultural appreciation I suppose a reader in Sri Lanka would find some of the mundane events somethingnew to meander though for its ‘Americaness’. But in terms of conforming to the general conceptions of what a novel ‘ought to be’, Sarah’s work does not fit into the framework. What is striking however is the
ground the text provides for explorations for thematic substance on the lines of postmodernist literarythought. The minimalism adopted by Sarah is to such a severe degree that it presents a narrative built on avery skeletal structure of descriptivism.
Between staccatos and rambles
Thorough out the 53 page work there is not a single metaphor or simile or any of the other usual poeticdevices that generally literary works are characterized by. The word constructions are such that thenarrative varies between staccato and ramblings and narrative modes that appear to address an audience(reader) and then appears to be self addressed, and thereby creates a string of ambiguities. At certain points in the story the narrator displays a psyche disjointed from the fullness of one’s ‘being’ –body andmind. The reason to make such observations is that at times the speaker seems to attribute certain body parts as almost autonomous! The following is demonstrative of this quality –“First this foot moves thenthe other foot moves how do the feet know how to move one after the other to take one to a place whereone decides to go.”(p.22) Please note that the text does not have a question mark at the end of the linequoted. No, it’s doubtful that it could a typographical error/omission. The whole text does not provide thesign of the question mark though lines may carry the tone of a ‘question’. Once again the ambiguity of thespeaker’s intentions comes out strongly through this technique that leaves even the idea of ‘what is aquestion (?)’ open to discuss. After all if it’s in the strict privacy of one’s own consciousness, are therereally question marks and exclamation marks at the end of the line? That is exactly what ‘Hand to Bone’representational of in the narrative it presents.
Objectivity of observations and existential vistas
Observations of the narrator are very fact like with stringent objectivity, stripping phenomena down to the‘physically’ factual with little or no emotions being attached to the descriptions be it a thing, a person or act. It is by far the most introverted interior monologue I have come across and shows at times a snap shotdiscursive through staccato sequences of images which are utterly banal. Pages 33-34 has a fourteen linesentence what seems like a madness of repetitions that makes one wonder is the consciousnessrepresented one of an autistic person? The narrative shows the instantaneity of perceiving (an object, person, phenomena) but not as the primary basis in terms of the ‘perception point’ presented to the reader.Such instantaneity is not the norm of the text but the refection and recollection of acts and phenomena.This vantage crafted by Sarah almost makes the narrator depict a voyeuristic self depiction whichresonates strongly with the theme of identity and the dilemma of an existential being. The fact that thereare no solutions sought to the existential dilemma like in modernist literature (such as Albert Camus’sThe Outsider) Sarah presents a quintessential postmodernist approach where no solutions are sought for the existential reality and instead devises (a) play within it.
Stripping identity to the ‘bone’
The narrative’s end brings the reader to a place where there seems some cessation is intended, however if it is a complete cessation or a symbolic one meant to show the end of what the reader is privy to of thenarrator’s perceptions (through the numerous faculties) is unclear. ‘Minimalism’ as a the technique hastaken an all pervasive quality to define the existential groundings in Sarah’s work which presents a notionof ‘facelessness’ through the narrator, who may not be labeled, and identified in terms of name,occupation, or even gender (though the tone may imply a female consciousness) and thereby develops a

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