The Art of Splitting Apart

Writing in fragments

Grant Faulkner

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I’ve been thinking about my love affair with the fragment this week as my book, The Art of Brevity, enters the world.

I don’t think of life as a round, complete circle — it’s shaped by fragments, shards, and pinpricks. It’s a collage of snapshots, a collection of the unspoken, an attic full of situations that aren’t easily disposed of. The brevity of flash is perfect for capturing the small but telling moments when life pivots (or splinters) almost unnoticeably, yet profoundly.

I am fascinated by the disconnections in my life, whether it’s the gulf between a loved one, the natural world, or God. I don’t want a form that represents comprehensiveness or unity because that’s an aesthetic at odds with my experience of life. In fact, our universe is becoming more entropic as I type.

To write in fragments calls on a different sensibility, a different tactile feel, a different artistry.

Each moment on the page is a brush, a kiss, a reaching out.

“So many fragments, so many beginnings, so many pleasures,” Roland Barthes wrote. He understood the seductive nature of a fragment. It’s a wink of the eye, a revelation, a promise. In fragmentary, ambulatory texts, the reader is less involved with a pathway of narrative construction than a series of impressions that open up. Meaning does not give itself as a whole; it lies in the gradual unfolding of signs.

To write this way, as Barthes suggests, is to write with a sense of initial attraction and flirtation, to write always in the erotics of the moment. I use the word erotics because I think of fragments as a series of “touches” on the page. Each moment on the page is a brush, a kiss, a reaching out.

If you line fragments up, Barthes wrote, they become part of a song cycle, “each piece self-sufficient, and yet it is never anything but the interstice of its neighbors.” The fragment, like the haiku, implies an immediate delight. “It is a fantasy of discourse, a gaping of desire,” he wrote.

Fragmentation supports a view of the world as shattered, pixelated, and momentary.

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Grant Faulkner

Executive Director of National Novel Writing Month, co-founder of 100 Word Story, writer, tap dancer, alchemist, contortionist, numbskull, preacher.