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Lyn Hejinian. The Fatalist.

Omnidawn, 2003.84 pp. Paper: $12.95.

The Fatalist belongs to a category of Lyn Hejinian's book-length collage poems-along with works such as Happiness and Slowly--that take as their title a one-word concept and proceed to use this concept not so much as the determinate focus of the work but rather as a loose theme around which to organize a huge range of materials. The melding of aphorisms, pieces of lit theory, fragments of anecdote, and colloquial remarks within these books amounts less to a meditation on a theme than to a meditation away from it. In this latest book, "fate" plays many roles and is always falling into adjacent ideas and images, disappearing and reappearing throughout the text. We "regard uncertainty (fate) / as potentially a purveyor of pain," then learn that pain has "enormous decontextualizing power." Fate is "occurrence," but is also "what has happened to one, not what is going to happen." It is "not all that will happen / except in retrospect." Elsewhere, "Positions are always changing / things for us," which presumably includes "in retrospect." In all instances, "fate" connects to other concepts, either new or recurring, each concept like one color on a giant Rubik's Cube called "The Fatalist" that is forever twisting and recombining before us. Some of the resulting juxtapositions are more fruitful than others; one of the more interesting for me is to see fate in terms of literary closure. With Diderot's Jacques the Fatalist always in the background, and with Diderot himself regularly in the foregrounds--"one of my own particular heroes" (mine, too)--of a book by the author of the excellent essay "The Rejection of Closure," it is hard not to consider fate (or the traditional understanding of fate satirized by Diderot) and closure as sharing some ground: they are determinate, prescribed; they are everything that, as Diderot's Jacques says, "is written up above." Hejinian has placed Diderot in her book because he "subverted all possibility of [closure]," but his presence also underscores several of The Fatalist's other values, including the pleasures of digression and the subversive nature of limitless play.
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Author:Riker, Martin
Publication:The Review of Contemporary Fiction
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 2004
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