Friday, October 23, 2015

"The Sisters' Line" by Liz Argall and Kenneth Schneyer

At times a bit too gleefully "quirky" for my blood, underneath it all this is, like the Gabby Reed story I wrote about recently, a story of creation and compulsion. Here much revolves around the seemingly contradictory fact that in any creative process everything is both arbitrary and necessary; as the story goes on much of its absurdity is revealed as living in this contradiction. For example there is Becky, who will only do anything if it can be named with a word starting with B (an arbitrary necessity in itself), leading us to the spectacle of the narrator combing through a thesaurus trying to find the right B-word to invoke to get her to drive the train on a search for the narrator's sister, sometimes goofy in desperation: "Can you bus the train, Becky? ... Broom, broom?"

The narrator — who has for years been attempting to assemble this train which the missing sister has been mailing "piece by piece" — is horrified when Becky yanks a piece of it out of place and puts it somewhere else, where it fits every bit as well as it had before, now serving a completely different function. "If the parts are malleable and contain as many hidden pockets as the letters, the variables are infinite. How will I piece it together if even the pieces lie to me? ... How much of my train is a lie?" But in this very interchangeability — arbitrariness seeming to come to the fore, taking precedence over necessity — perhaps lies the truth. We look for a luggage rack and find instead a control panel; we reach for the word "drive" (already inappropriate, surely, for a train?) and discover we must find some other word. Literature, writes Miguel de Beistegui,

lets itself be carried off to where the real flees its own self-presence. Ultimately, the real just is that very self-absence. And if it always disappoints, it's not because we always expect too much of it but because we expect it where it actually isn't, because it's never where we expect it to be, because it can only be grasped in its own drift or constitutive gap. We always want it to be in its rightful place but that place is precisely where it's not, precisely where it's lacking.
Now, the story at hand may not always let itself be carried off as fully as I think it should. But the train, in its malleability, in its infinite variability, indeed in its arbitrariness, is not a lie; though who knows where it may be taking them as the story ends, though it looks entirely different than expected, it brings static futility to an end: it works, it goes, it is.

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