Part Four: Conclusion
‘… our memory of a moment is not informed of everything that has happened since. This moment which it has registered endures still, lives still, and with it the person whose form is outlined in it.’
Proust, iii, 478, xi, 85
Having settled on the critical essay as the form for my exegetical component, it required only a place to start. However, as Sanders observes ‘The writing of an essay is like finding one’s way through a forest without being quite sure what game you are chasing, what landmark you are seeking’ (1988, p.34). The creative work proceeded with relative ease, but the essay? What experience to prod with the ‘philosophic finger’ (Priestly, 1925, p.31)? Much muttering was indulged in, much swearing, many false starts begun and aborted after a few lines or paragraphs and shouted exclamations of ‘That’s not [insert expletive here] right!’ I am Eco’s frustrated commentator who ‘becomes furious at every line, tears up the notes [s]he took a moment before, seeks the conclusion that comes after [her/]his “therefore,” and cannot find it’ (1998, p.221). I am also ever mindful that a frog never fares well during a dissection.
So I thought about my tradition, my tribe, about why I write what I write.
As a writer, I am part of a group that warns others not to stray from the path ? then I do precisely that (writers are natural hypocrites, just as we are liars for a living). I wander off the well-trodden path and create my own stories. The land of the fairy tale is not a terra nullius but rather a place that everyone owns. It is also a space where many different voices exist ? it’s also a place where some voices (patriarchal) have attempted to silence others (matriarchal); and it is a place where those voices have refused to be silenced. It is a locus of struggle where, when the centripetal force of consolidation and homogenisation and the countering centrifugal force of destabilization and dispersal are in harmony, in a healthy tug’o’war, a heteroglossia comes into existence (Middendorf, 1998, p.206). In that space where no voice is privileged and all voices are heard, lie the materials for what I do.
Not only am I working in a tradition, I am making anew, I am ‘making strange’. And in that ‘making strange’, I am also ‘making do’ (De Certeau, 1984), with materials that are to hand ? materials that predate me: the fairy tale form and all its tropes and motifs, its embedded meanings and codes. In creating the Sourdough mosaic I have, in effect, engaged in a kind of bricolage in using old materials.
Initially, I baulked at the idea of Sourdough as bricolage. Not at the idea of re-use and juxtaposition, of combining elements that are ‘strange to one another’ as Freud put it (1961, p.172), but rather at the underlying idea that what is used in bricolage is debris; that bricolage is related to a state of decay. It seemed to me that the materials of remade fairy tales were not debris at all, nor the left-overs from some kind of earlier destruction, but living components for assemblages that can be made anew. The fairy tale’s flesh is constantly transforming and hybridizing. While they do carry the marks of past usage, their remaking is a form of evolution, and dead things, destroyed things, do not evolve. If the fairy tale were a tree that could be cut down, one might see the growth rings in its very, very thick trunk.
The more I thought about it, though, the idea of fairy tales as aggregates of materials that are often marked by their former purpose or usage and so carrying traces of their past into a new incarnation did indeed seem appropriate for the Sourdough mosaic. I have spoken in this exegesis of embedded tropes and motifs and the codes they carry with them, codes which can be decoded when used with a reader’s contextual encyclopaedia. These embedded codes are the marks of former purpose ? and echoes of voices of once-upon-a-time tellers. So I choose Boisvert’s idea that ‘the bricoleur thus displays concern for recuperation, and thereby responds to a profound need: that of creating meaning through reassembly, by (re)organising and weaving meaningful relationships among apparently heterogeneous objects’ (2006, n.p.).
Angela Carter did something similar in The Company of Wolves (1995) when she wrote three versions of “Little Red Riding Hood”: “The Werewolf”, “The Company of Wolves” and “Wolf Alice”. Lau refers to this as a trilogy but I would also add a fourth: “Peter and the Wolf”, which appeared in the collection Black Venus (1996). In creating four different versions of the one tale, Carter has reused the materials and refashioned them into something new and striking, but still grounded in an old tradition. Shakespeare said there’s nothing new under the sun ? but how we reorder those elements already in existence, those things that come to hand, this is where our making strange, making do, our interacting with our creativity occurs.
As I continued to interact with my materials, to examine their already existing marks and try to work out how to refashion what I found, my own stories grew and I realised that my desire to make anew, to remake my tradition could find its outlet in the creation of a mosaic of tales. So, as I was ‘committing’ bricolage, then why the mosaic rather than a collage? Firstly, a collage is a collection of unrelated things – which feeds into the idea of remaking with the items at hand, but did not work for Sourdough, which was made of related items. Secondly, in a collage, the technique used is one of layering, each different collected item often placed over another, at least partially, to create a kind of sedimentary layer in the art work. What was essential with Sourdough, were the cracks – that the spaces between the stories be visible, that they act as both frames and doorways, as unimpeded crossing spaces. Overlapping would lessen the impact of the stories, would obscure what lay beneath. The involuntary memory stands out – it defies time, existing both outside and inside the present – in order to maintain this element in the fictional analogue of the involuntary memory, it was essential for the story to stand out, to remain almost ‘backlit’ by the ‘putty’ that surrounded it.
The ideas that would eventually grow into my research question began to emerge from this mosaic. The little queries and wonderings ? like ‘Why doesn’t the fairy tale deal with trauma?’ ‘Don’t loss and grief mark these characters?’ ‘How do I place my tales outside of their time, make them seem to be eternally happening?’ ? all combined to become the research question, ‘Can a writer use the structural possibilities of the mosaic text to create a fictional work that is an analogue of an involuntary memory?’ I wanted the embodied ghosting moment that memory creates. Proust refers to this when he writes of a ‘moment which it [memory] has registered endures still, lives still, and with it the person whose form is outlined in it’ (1983, p.85).
The power of the involuntary memory lies in its unexpectedness, in the fact that it cannot be wilfully recalled ? it is not a dog and will not come when commanded. They disrupt the flow of time ? as the time-space of the short story does, privileging the now and an event, widening a moment for a limited, yet strangely eternal, amount of time. Did I succeed in creating a fictional analogue of an involuntary memory? Yes, I think I did, but here’s the thing: I think it is a trick that works only once with each reader. The effect of the Sourdough stories, that they are shocking and unexpected and mimic the sensations that one experiences when an involuntary memory hits, can only be felt, I think, on the first read. Having been read once, surprise must surely fade and with it the impact I aimed for in the mosaic. That fictional memory – that portal moment – opens but briefly.
I began Sourdough and Other Stories with no intention other than to write, to tell tales that would get a reader in ? to take advantage, if you will, of the short story’s ‘heightened and calculated manipulation of the reader’ (Trussler, 1996, p.571). I am an author who works with the fairy tale genre because I love it; it offers me a chance to play out ideas and fears that intrigue or plague me. What I particularly love about working in and with this form is the sense of working in a tradition: others have gone before me and others will come after me. I am a link in a chain of storytellers that stretches back to a group gathered around a fire, hearing how a little girl tricked a wolf and saved her own life.
In that realisation, finally, I know how to start this essay, whether the words come to me or I to them, the storm is over and the writer is calm.
‘How to tell this story?’