T Fleischmann on Messing Around with Veracity

H. L. Hix: Among the sentences that “stopped me in my tracks” is the last sentence on p. 26: “Were there no story of how we met we would have always known each other.”  It made me aware of the recurrence of “always” (as a word, as a theme) throughout the book, but it also made me want to ask: Is this book telling the story of how we met, or erasing that story?


T Fleischmann: I come from a tradition of the essay, but it is a tradition that is itself uneasy about narrative. Briefly, I don’t think it’s possible to tell any one story without simultaneously erasing countless others. Syzygy, Beauty is the story of a relationship, yet the relationship is polyamorous, polymorphous, and shifting. As a writer and a person who lived this relationship, I have two impulses. One is to tell the story and explore my version of the romance. The other is to be aware that the other people in this relationship have entirely different stories, not only divergent but altogether incompatible with my telling. A step further, I have my own contradictory versions of this story. Depending on when you ask me, I might say that I dated the person at the center of the essay for two years, or for three. I might say I loved his boyfriend, or I might say I did not. I might say he loved me, or not. I might say I was happy and I might be lying when I say it. When I talk about this relationship with my mother and when I talk about it with my girlfriend you would think I were talking about entirely different periods of my life.


These tensions regarding narrative are familiar territory to many people, whether looking at the destructive force of grand cultural narratives or the complex ways we lie to ourselves. I consider Syzygy, Beauty to be an essay, even as it draws from poetry and other genres. I’m attracted to the essay’s own relationship with truth, its kind of scandalous, drunk messing around with veracity. The questions of narrative and of truth that inform my own thinking are not dangerous to the genre, but rather vital to its evolution as art. I’m telling a story, but I’m also erasing it. In figuring out my own experience, I have to be aware of my subjectivity, of my lies, and of those stories I omit through forgetfulness or intention. Just as importantly, I need to move away from the self-centered “I” that sometimes results from this thinking—I need to instead find a self that is accountable to others, that invites divergences into the formation of meaning. If I can put something in the past, that somehow, weirdly, allows me to live with it forever. There’s a thrill in that contradiction, and it makes narrative and memory interesting rather than the sort of dusty, didactic things some people want them to be.


T Fleischmann.  Syzygy, Beauty.  Sarabande Books, 2012.

Comments are currently closed.