The Fragmented “Universe” and its Efficacy

I’m approaching Spectacle differently after reading Steinberg’s essays, especially “What Happened to Experimental Writing.” I noticed immediately when engaging with this text that her form and prose diverged from the structure I normally expect to interact with when reading a novel or a collection of stories. Steinberg writes drawing upon colloquial dialogue; her narrator says “some scared-as-shit girl,” “dumb guys,” “fucking charming” (50-53). She’s using everyday language — it is basic, simple. But Steinberg’s syntax makes this language charged, I think: she writes in periodic sentences, in fragments, with excessive punctuation, or sometimes none at all. I think of the story “Universe.” It’s context is heavy, aching stuff: from what I can decipher, the narrator — or the “one” consistently described throughout this piece — is dealing with the loss of baby, I think. Here again, Steinberg’s diction is clear and uncomplicated, but she forms lines like, “And then one thought one was tough.” So the language becomes emotive; the succinctness of syntax like this lends weight and charge to its content. We’re left with the aching sadness of the narrator  — thinking one was tough, but not truly being tough. Lines like these — brief, but made powerful because of their briefness — convey the emotion of the story’s plot content. So even though the story grapples with death in the simplest words, it highlights the sadness of this subject, the deep seriousness, the confusion, the heartbreak.

 

I tie “Universe” to the thoughts Steinberg shares in “What Happened to Experimental Writing.” She explains, “I should say that some of our most fragmented, disjointed experimental writing, is, these days, in my opinion, a more accurate representation” (publishersweekly.com). This makes sense to me, and aligns with the power I detected particularly in “Universe” and its syntax. When one was dealing with loss and a doctor’s conclusion, one’s thoughts wouldn’t be ordered. Memories and ideas would swirl together at once, as in the way that they do in the story. One wouldn’t think coherently — there would be fragments. And so Steinberg takes me right there, alongside this character, to feel what she must have felt. Her writing is disjointed but so are our thoughts during times like these, aren’t they?

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