Fabulous Fabulism

Posted on Apr 27, 2016


I spent last weekend at a Lacanian Conference in Colorado Springs—which is to say, I spent the weekend listening to the unconscious desires of a whole lot of theorists talking about things like: what is repressed when a symbolic leader is privileged, how love emerges in quiet ways, how silence can be radical (ask Bartleby the Scrivener), how an analyst listens for telling puns, since punning is a portal to the unconscious. My paper was about Robinson Crusoe talking to gold. I do not know what it is about the scene where Robinson pillages the useless money and hides it away deep in the novel for twenty-eight years, except that it is a fabulous moment, one that can’t quite be reckoned to the realist impulse most critics have attributed to the “novel.” This short paper is the tiny seed of a bigger project I will be working on for my dissertation—the long essay I am beginning to earn a PhD. Wish me luck.

This is a topsy-turvy blogpost because I’m too tired to sort out the overarching connection among the things in it, and besides I am still dreaming my last night’s dream, about keys, and wanting to swim, and then dancing gloriously with my mother, both of us twirling.

Here is a lovely wee article about fabulism that I enjoyed this morning. It’s about a purse which is really a portal. Maybe all metaphors are portals, I am thinking. Maybe language—itself metaphorical—is a portal. That’s a pretty Lacanian thought, after all.

Sometime over the weekend, a book club sent me questions about All The Broken Things and I liked the tone of the Q&A so I asked them if I could post it to my blog (two for one!). I had hoped to Skype in (something I do for free when book clubs request a visit) but our timing did not work out, so I suggested they send me questions, if they had any. I will put it here, since it discusses fabulism and my interest in it:

Bookclub: The time in High Park: we see the reference to the play Orpheus and Eurydice but it also has a feeling of magical realism – was this intentional?

Me:  Yes, the line between the factually true and the fantastic or the fairytale is immensely interesting to me. In my first novel, The Nettle Spinner I was already developing a playful interaction along the border of the real and the not-quite-real. For this interest, my name has an entry in the Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales, edited by the fairy tale scholar, Jack Zipes. I am endlessly fascinated by the way that fairy tales convey meaning — by amplifying consequences for their protagonists etc. And I have always loved magic. It was always the intention with ATBT to tell the story through a fairy tale, or Romance, lens, and the use of the play was a way to connect the practice of storytelling (theatre) with the sort of truth one may find in a fairy tale. I am glad that you caught this!

Bookclub: We all (for different reasons each) thought that Max was one of the most interesting characters in the story, what was your intention of Max’s role in the story?

Me: Max is a strange villain, and in a way he is not really even a villain. It’s hard to talk about intention here because he literally just popped into the story one day while I was writing and I loved him so well that he had to stay. I had so much fun watching Max emerge out of my pen. As soon as I saw this man coming out of my brain, the entire novel formed. I knew how the two stories — of agent orange and bear wrestling came together. I often think that writing is just a matter of trusting that the story will emerge, and that certainly happened for me in this case. I wrote him in a café and when I did I actually burst out laughing because up until then I was very tentative about how the story was forming and whether I could even pull off the strange constraints I had set for myself. It makes no sense — if you think about it — to consider that a story about bear wrestling and agent orange should even grace the same pages but I followed an instinct and Max became very important in my working through how ideas of disability and spectacle intersect. The moral of that story for me (again) is to always trust gut instinct when it comes to story. Follow desire!

Bookclub: Did you have a favourite character and/or did a character take you by surprise?

Me: I think my favourite character might be Bear, actually, although I am very fond of Bo and Orange and — well, ALL OF THEM. It’s been very gratifying to me that people are still reading the story three years after publication since I am not really entirely ready to stop thinking about it. I am so happy that — for instance — you have read it. I always wonder how people find out about the book. I expect a lot of it is word of mouth and I do appreciate people recommending the novel and chatting about it at book clubs. To me when this happens the characters are able to continue a kind of ‘life’ if that makes sense. It is you who ignite the book, after all. So hopefully my affection for all of the characters comes through to you and other readers, and that affection can spread out. I guess if I had one hope for this book and its reception it would be that readers felt something. It’s a small hope but not inconsequential, I think!

The character who most took me by surprise as I wrote was Max, as I wrote above. But there was something very profound for me in writing Orange. It was very difficult to inhabit such a perspective, since we usually think of character representation through ability to communicate that same. In her case, I didn’t have access to that and so she is — like Bear — all gesture. The novel is coded with their movement and physical presence but not their words. This makes them embodied in a way that Bo struggles toward in his wrestling. Inhabiting non-verbal characters was a huge challenge and a huge gift in the end to me. I learned a great deal about my own limitations to ‘see’ by enacting this artistic project.

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