Lyn Hejinian. Happily.
These short books by poet, essayist, and translator Lyn Hejinian are not quite a series, but read together, it's difficult not to take them as one. In all three Hejinian explores happiness, time, fate, logic, birth, and death (and music, photography, film, and writing) in run-on lines and paragraphs of a sentence or two that often seem only peripherally related to one another. But subjects and objects recur (within each book and from book to book), creating a network of motifs from the earliest, Happily, through Slowly and The Beginner. A key motif is an "outside" physical world in constant contact with an "internal" intellectual/emotional self. Hejinian writes from a specific domestic spot and with a keen awareness of the activeness of things, to the point where objects are often personified. In Happily there are "buckets taking dents" and "persevering saws swimming into boards"; in Slowly "film proceeds without inhibitions." And in The Beginner, "If someone referred to by a personal pronoun feels emotions too great to continue, the pronoun will come to refer instead to a rock, a natural thing." Everything is dynamic and exists in relation to everything else. Complex ideas in this world become as approachable as a bicycle or an egg, and references to Gertrude Stein, postmodern theories of photography, Gustave Flaubert, Rae Armantrout, or Plotinus maintain levity rather than becoming grave or portentous. Furthermore, the ongoing conversation with writers, thinkers, and theories places the reader consciously inside a continuum of literary thought, in the way that the development of ideas throughout the books creates a continuum. Upon finishing we are left with the sense that, taken together, the pieces don't have a specific beginning or end, but run much like a film on a loop, with banal and exquisite images flickering past, sinking and reemerging. In this way Hejinian creates an act of reading for the reader, a rhythmic temporal experience, like the duration of a day, film, or piece of music, all of which begin and end while maintaining the inherent possibility/assurance of beginning again.
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|Publication:||The Review of Contemporary Fiction|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2003|
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