Abstract literature. Does it exist? Not everyone agrees that it does—that language must inherently communicate something precise, even if the idea is abstract. But, really, how else can we explain Dada poetry, or the results from a rousing game of exquisite corpse?
No matter: this week we will not think about literary labels and instead look at literature that contains the abstract rather than is abstract. These are pieces that will get us thinking about concepts that float, experiential things that can’t land in our cupped hands, lands of confusion and multifarious meanings. Things such as: metaphor, habits, ethics, reaction, origin, distinction, tone, logic, spite, paradox, privacy, awareness, ego, pleasure, decision, God, and self—words all taken from this week’s selections.
Nate Liederbach’s “Assurance” is a feat: it is difficult to sustain nine pages of dialogue without losing momentum, but to sustain nine pages of satirical dialogue? Wow. Liederbach expertly uses dashes, ellipses, and other punctuation to his advantage, permitting natural interruptions to occur in the language and allowing an easy rhythm to develop as the absurdity of the conversation swells. He draws attention to the language—the abstract language—too commonly used in corporate offices, where there is a lot of discussion but little is truly conveyed. And the conversation that occurs in the story takes place in an office where language should be understood, adding another layer of irony. The vague concept of assurance, and what it means, or doesn’t mean, lingers throughout the story, until a reader might wonder if words mean anything at all.
Leaping now into “Dear Id.” Christopher Linforth’s letter to a third of his psyche is more than an amusing romp; it is testimony that we are all abstractions, with pieces glued together that can be unglued, then glued back where things shouldn’t stick. An eye on a thigh, like in a Picasso. We are made of pieces, and the id is the Charlie Sheen of those pieces—our darkness, our avoidance of pain through a pursuit of pleasure, our high-speed chase in a Maserati to get back to a place we can’t name. Linforth’s piece examines the abstraction that probably concerns us all most, whether we like it or not: the self. Who the hell are we?
Gary Moshimer is one of my favorite contemporary short story writers, and I am pleased that Michael Meyerhofer, Atticus Review’s poetry editor, accepted “The Cart,” a stirring poem that rounds out our theme of the abstract beautifully. Each subtitle within the poem is a stage of the Kubler-Ross model of grief (denial acceptance, etc.), and what—really—do those words mean, and do the concepts truly take us somewhere else once we cycle through them?
Welcome to our linguistic abyss.
“Explosion” by George Grosz (1917) at 321Ignition