available at Shearman Books
Context as framework has received attention lo these many post-modern years. I submit that we have found holes in objectivity. Call objectivity an admirable quality, but do not expect to see much of it.
Silk Egg by Eileen Tabios immerses in subjective context. Subtitled Collected Novels, the book supplies a stuttering array of contexts. Basically, the book is all contexts, and little plot. On to something here.
I shall now jabber away about other authors (while remaining within my context, I hope). This is where Eileen will be muttering, Back to me! Back to me! Sorry Eileen, but I think supplying a context (given that it is my subjective one) may prove helpful in speaking of Silk Egg.
I start with Henry James. His novels curiously please me, even tho the balance between action and rumination leans heavily towards the talky side. Yes, he chaws more than he bites off. How he envelopes his stiff, proper characters with subjective musings, however, generates a caroming interest for me. The thingness of his words becomes so central to the experience of his art that one accepts the long wind, even relishes it.
Henry James shares rare loquacious presence in his work. James comes to mind as I read Silk Egg, tho Silk Egg has none of his loquacity. Silk Egg offers contexts for some story or stories that Eileen does not fully deliver. Turn of the Screw, James’ premium page turner, balances on context. The there story pressures the idea of reliability. It does so with shaky context, who to trust? So there you are, a context for the context of Silk Egg.
Charles Baudelaire’s Poèmes en Prose, aka Paris Spleen comes to me, as well. Some of his curtales are hilarious, sardonic observations, others are captive, word-involved shiny things. Brevity, or perhaps the implications of brevity, seems key. Likewise in Eileen’s novels.
Tender Buttons by Gertrude Stein also jumps to mind as I read. Her descriptive dalliances offset the need to make linear sense. She can go all around the subject because she does not know it as a subject. She understands words as singularities as well as union workers. The jostle of episodes in Silk Egg lurch around the unfinalized ‘story’ of Silk Egg.
Eileen herself claims some debt to Borges on the back cover of the book. Here, friends, I step back: I have not read Borges. Antecedents, real or imagined, aren’t the point anyway. I intend my references to help describe the matter here.
Now let me piece this all together.
Silk Egg involves 100 plus pages in which 12 novels—she calls them that, so that’s what they are— are unrolled, chapter by chapter. Each chapter owns a page and consists of no more than, I’m guessing, seven sentences.
Those chapters are poetic in formulation. Cheat or trick, Eileen inscribed my copy with the words “…the prose poem masquerading as ‘novel’, mischievously”. It could be novel masquerading as “prose poem”, I daresay.
In the stories, an omni-narrator conveys the details that want a context. The lazy reader will infer biographical connection. Some is actual, from what I know of the public Eileen Tabios. I think Silk Egg offers a different expanse than just the facts, ma’am. The story here is more human than novels like to allow. Most novels monger malarkey, tho at times the entertainment is worth it. The malarkey generates from pieces fitting neatly, conclusions coming right at the end, and other unlikely happenstances.
I do not know Eileen’s method of production but it does not seem to be cut up. Reckon Ashbery’s fun with the form: he shook the bejesus out of the ordinary. And remember from Three Poems, how Ashbery contemplates whether to leave everything in or take it out? Eileen has made some choices here.
In Silk Egg, the thing not there delivers the firm yet encouraging blow to the solar plexus. I mean that more in the sense of collecting your attention than tussling with Bob Fitzsimmons (wikipediate the name: he was a boxer of yore). The details that Eileen does present furnish thingness, and I mean thingness in just that complex wallop that Heidegger saucily served us. Leave it to a philosopher to make a mess out of words.
And leave it to a poet to trust partial notes, glimmers, and glimpses. Negative Capability. Context is what we know right now, via physics, via Buddha, via Jung, via our subjective cases. Poetry is the engine that directs us thru these partial causalities, fever, and fret. It is the poets who freed the novel, returned it to the Imagination. I am glad to see Eileen Tabios in that space, reckoning the possibilities of our words.
I have made a map here, for you, Gentle Reader. Eileen shares insights from the Penetralium of mystery, which is cool. The details seem highly personal from the Author’s side. With Silk Egg, you the Reader invade the notion of context, not the life of the Author.