Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A Little White Shadow

Ruefle, Mary. A Little White Shadow. Seattle, WA: Wave Books, 2006.

Ruefle's collection engages the relationship between image and text in several different manners. The first, and most evident, is the material artifact itself. The poet's A Little White Shadow is actually a reproduction of E.M.M.'s story A Little White Shadow, originally published in 1889. Ruefle manipulated the original artifact by “painting” over text with white-out, creating erasures from the original. For example, the entire first page has been erased, or condensed into the following: “one in ruins// struck// notes whose sounds// spent a winter here” (3). In a manner of speaking, Ruefle produced the new artifact from the “ruins” of the original, and those “notes,” or words, which signify particular “sounds” are surrounded by the “winter,” or white-out, she covered the text with. Re-creating the artifact fosters a particular set of affects upon the audience. To begin with, one is predisposed to read the new text in the left-to-right, top-to-bottom order of the original prose; if an audience member could not see the physical layout of the book-format, reading words as wrap-around text would not be an intuitive reading style because of spatial arrangements and alignments. Another effect of the re-production is a constant, visually reminder of appropriation and silencing, or at least transformation of, another writer's language, ideas, and narrative. While all erasure methods inherently participate in said practices, Ruefle's collection visually imbricates itself throughout its entirety. Finally, the whited-out text, at times, is semi-perceptible, and thus creates a “shadow” text that works in conjunction with the text that has not been whited-out. The reader, literally, is “brought in contact/ with the phenomenon peculiar to/ 'A shadow'” (15), which is to struggle, both visually and cognitively with the “pale, and/ deformed but very interesting” (23) type beneath swathes of lightly applied white-out. Other visual techniques that Ruefle employs, albeit not as frequently, are a) a metaphoric correspondence between the perceivable text and the margins of the white-out; for example, the text “a heart/ a heart when/ laden hearts/ cause” is encased in a heart-shaped outline; and b) the incorporation of actual images into the fabric of the text. Within A Little White Shadow, there are two instances of image integration into the text, both functioning differently. The first occurs when Ruefle pastes an image of a chair into the marginal area after the phrase “it was she was not known beyond her own little” (25); while there are no explicit instructions to do so, placing the image directly after the text causes the audience to “read” it as an ideograph. As such, one “reads” the text as “it was she was not known beyond her own little chair.” The second instance occurs when Ruefle pastes an image of an envelope over a whited-out portion of the original artifact and next to the text “a letter// God/ changed” (41). In this instance, the image does not function as an ideograph, but merely as a descriptive, visualization of the text. Finally, the stained and aged letter, possibly dated “April 29, 1948,” contributes to the antiquated aura fostered by reproducing a artifact from the nineteenth-century.

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