Armenian News Network / Groong

The Critical Corner - 04/02/2013


A Dimly Lit Drone Bombs: All the Light that Was by Nancy Kricorian
(Houghton-Mifflin, Boston, New York, 2013)

Armenian News Network / Groong
April 2, 2013

By Bedros Afeyan

 
It is entirely remarkable how banal her writing is. As if afflicted by
a permanently swollen and actively secreting gland of bland, Nancy
Kricorian writes and writes without heeding giant warning signs. So
much bad writing, packaged, fanfared, pre-exposed as grand, and when
you face the work you realize that there is "so much less there than
meets the eye." This is both infuriating and disheartening. The highs
and lows of inspiration and despair are non-existent here. The art is
absent. The depth and texture is vanished as if the world was a
flatland of dull plastic existence. Here, all sentences are uniformly
DOA (dead on arrival). One is reminded of a shop keeper of yore, with
his meat packing wax paper and a fat short dull tipped pencil, running
after your thoughts and your purchases, trying to keep track of what
is in your mental basket and how many of this or how many of that you
seem to care for, awkwardly making his lists, never comfortable with
writing and dreading arithmetic. It is this sense that smells rotten
in her writing and soon kills. Nancy Kricorian's writing consists of
drab lists, drones, prices and dozens and parcels and inane remarks
and stairs and streets and asides on jobs and jibes and jibber and
ish. it just makes you feel so awful, if indeed this is a
representation of what goes on in her head, which she insists on
putting down on paper and for us to have to share this horror, three
novels deep and counting.
 
Muted, dulled, dwarfed existence is all Ms. Kricorian manages to
undulate with her limited and irritating prose style. Drones of
mud-dragged description of static, stale lists, emotional barrenness
that is foreign even in the Antarctic, let alone as a depiction of
anything remotely Armenian, or French, or alive, for that matter.
Perhaps this would be the vibe one would get as a result of being
heavily medicated, all dull, all leveled, all bland, until the next
crisis of chemical imbalance. To quote Karouac about what happens if
you polish your prose too much or wear off its colors by worrying, I
wish someone had pointed out to her this: `I spent my entire youth
writing slowly with revisions and endless rehashing speculation and
deleting and got so I was writing one sentence a day and the sentence
had no FEELING. Goddamn it, FEELING is what I like in art, not
CRAFTINESS and the hiding of feelings.'  - Jack Kerouac.
 
We might as well add another quote by Kerouac in order to throw in
writing styles and Armenians and Jazz, all at once: "Yes, jazz and
bop, in the sense of a, say, a tenor man drawing a breath and blowing
a phrase on his saxophone, till he runs out of breath, and when he
does, his sentence, his statement's been made . . . That's how I
therefore separate my sentences, as breath separations of the mind
. . . I formulated the theory of breath as measure, in prose and
verse, never mind what Olson, Charles Olson says, I formulated that
theory in 1953 at the request of Burroughs and Ginsberg. Then there's
the raciness and freedom and humor of jazz instead of all that dreary
analysis and things like `James entered the room, and lit a
cigarette. He thought Jane might have thought this too vague a gesture
. . .' You know the stuff. As for Saroyan, yes I loved him as a
teenager, he really got me out of the nineteenth-century rut I was
trying to study, not only with his funny tone but also with his neat
Armenian poetic - I don't know what . . . he just got me
. . . Hemingway was fascinating, the pearls of words on a white page
giving you an exact picture . . . but Wolfe was a torrent of American
heaven and hell that opened my eyes to America as a subject in
itself."
 
 
There are two possibilities. Nancy Kricorian lacks the necessary
acuity to analyze, to construct, to build universes of thoughts and
emotions around real or imagined people with real problems and
consequences, or else she is polishing the life out of her work and
all we are left with are worthless scraps after all the meat has been
gnawed off due to fear and self-doubt, bad advice from wrong teachers
at Dartmouth or Columbia or editors asleep on the job, ever since.
Either way, reader, beware. You are entering the desert of barren
prose, the garden of barely moving inconsquentialities, the dull-house
of dim imaginings, the hell of unechoed chambers... Avoid this
experience! You owe it to yourself. There is no there, there.
 
As for particular instances of blandness offered in this novel, I
offer the following observations.  Ms. Kricorian knows nothing of what
it means to be Armenian. She is a permanent and self-satisfied
outsider. She will judge, concoct and contort whatever it is to be
Armenian to the small pegged region of depiction and depth-penetration
she is capable of and leave it at that. So there will be a Vay, vay,
Yavroum, Babig, Meron, Zavoug, vardig babble of what appear to her to
be Armenianisms, steadily flowing. But they are hollow and insipid.
They are also no substitute for true cultural or historical memes.
They are clown fair.
 
Add to that a novel set in Paris with hardly a true Paris there.
Saying Belleville, Belleville, and naming a park or two (over and over
again) or le Cinquihme, does not a depiction of Paris make, let alone
the Paris of the 1940's, with Boches thrown in as a depiction of the
loathed invaders and occupiers, too little depiction, too much
repetition. Texture and depth are not achieved by repetition. You
actually have to work to fill in the scenes, not repeat them
interminably.
 
No amount of buttons sewn, Jewish little girls saved, kisses given,
sex scenes in pitch dark rooms left undescribed, church smoky scenes
interminably described and repeated, dinner tables and radio
broadcasts, cursing fathers on cue, admonishing mothers like robots
and the dying aunt dutifully, dying, will do. Clichis abound here.
You will easily get the sense that all men are animals, jumpy, to be
tamed. All women are saints, soaring with their saintliness shoes,
sliding through the blue velvet skies of their dreams and sighs, with
dignity that could break mountains of resistance without a cry. This
magical brew of infantility, of depthlessness, of anecdotes that leave
you thinking, huh? Is that all? Is that all there is? You must be
kidding me! Get to you after a while.
 
The sparsity of specificity and nonexistence of depth are what kill
any chances the author might have had to say something meaningfully.
The inept phrasing, the lifelessness, sentence after sentence, are
nauseatingly irritating. And 278 pages of it wait for you in this
book, perhaps self mockingly called, All the Light That Was. Do not
read it. Walk away, dear reader, and find a real Armenian, a real
author, hopefully the combination of both, and have a merry time with
our saga as a people and as a narrative proposition worthy of deeper
consideration, if you can.


--
Dr. Bedros Afeyan is a theoretical physicist who works and lives in
the Bay area with his wife, Marine. He writes in Armenian and in
English and also paints and sculpts.

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