I visited Washington, D.C. on a quest last week. I wanted to see Fonzi’s jacket at the Smithsonian’s American History Musuem. I failed. I never found the jacket.
Instead, I found: Archie Bunker’s chair; Dorothy’s ruby slippers (yes, the heels were clicked together); the original Muppets; and Catwoman’s leather outfit. I moved along the National Mall under cloudy skies, sneakers crunching over the softly pebbled walkways, walking into the Natural History Museum where I saw the Hope Diamond and an array of other gems and minerals. I then made my way to the National Gallery to stand before the creative progeny of Rodin, Monet, Van Gogh and Picasso.
It was here at the National Gallery of Art, through the accident of freeform milling and through the failed quest to find Fonzi's jacket, that I discovered new perspectives on literary cubism. The small exhibit tucked into a small corner of the sprawling museum was titled “Text as Inspiration: Artists’ Books and Literature.” Intrigued, I entered the area and studied the fourteen artists' books on exhibit. The books were cubist in that their authors employed various modes of artistic expression to tell a story; the individual cubes of art became building blocks that converged into a thematic whole.
The form of literary cubism that I use in my writing is limited to various modes of written expression. I’ve used poems, letters, e-mails, government and legal memoranda, news articles and even automated spreadsheets as the cubes or building blocks of fiction. The books in this exhibit transcend the use of words as a sole means of expression. These books couple words with visual and tactile formats, giving the reader a synthesis of text, image and form.
Have I unnecessarily and blindly shackled the expressive components of literary cubism in my practice of fiction writing?
Yes, I have.
One of the texts on exhibit was Sandra McPherson’s book of poetry titled “Eve.” In it, the author includes a papier-mâché sculpture of Adam’s rib covered in a feminine black veil. The text of the book falls out of the sculpture in an accordion-like fashion.
Literary cubism is a potent and provocative technique for creating fiction. A richer and perhaps more expressive mode of this technique goes beyond the use of only words. Literary cubism gives full license to inclusion of visual and tactile formats.