Wednesday, March 3, 2010

My Life

Hejinian, Lyn. My Life. Saint Paul, MN: Green Integer Press, 1987.

Hejinian composed her lyrical, prose autobiography in forty-five sections, each containing forty-five sentences, corresponding to the forty-five years of her life up to that point in time. At the beginning of each section, there is a short, lineated fragment that recurs throughout the entirety of the collection, but as a sentence within the fabric of the prose, such as “a pause, a rose, something on paper” (74), or “The obvious analogy is with music” (79). To a certain extent, the purpose of these lyrical fragments can be found when Hejinian comments meta-critically on her work; she writes: “Only fragments are accurate. Break it up into single words, charge them with combination” (75). It would appear, according to the poet, that “Only fragments are accurate” because, when one inserts (or re-inserts) “single words” into a variety of different “combinations” or contexts, the meaning of that particular word alters, thus demonstrating the manner in which language fosters equivocal “truths” and challenges conceptions of monolithic absolutes and the foundations of representational writing. Another aesthetic concern of the book is the transformation of prose into a lyric medium. Hejinian addresses this matter extensively throughout the collection, such as when she writes: “Speak—only to concentrate instability on the bird whose song you describe” (148), or “When you speak you play a language. The obvious analogy is with music” (116). Other issues that arise over the course of the book deal with the nature of the personal narrative, or “An 'oral history' on paper” (9), and how “a strict chronology has no memory” (16). Moreover, when one relates a historical narrative, it is of the utmost importance “how one goes about educating that would-be audience,” and such educational techniques “may very likely determine the history of that moment, its direction, the qualities that become emphatic and characteristic of its later influence” (32). Likewise, “how one goes about educating an audience” is multi-faceted and contingent on whom the speaker/writer is: “There were more storytellers than there were stories, so that everyone in the family had a version of history and it was impossible to get close to the original, or to know 'what really happened'” (27). Finally, the poet examines language as an object and the way in which one can think about it in terms other than simple representation or communication. For example, toward the latter half of My Life, Hejinian writes: “A paragraph measured in minutes” (93) transforms it into a “time and place, not a syntactical unit” (137), or “a certain geometry of purely decorative shapes” (66).

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