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Bewildering Stories

The Critics’ Corner

“The Princess of Brighton Beach”

by Bertil Falk

What Diana Pollin is trying to do in “The Princess of Brighton Beach” is praiseworthy. She is trying to extend the ability to express feelings, describe situations and tell a story by distorting in places the way language is used, spelled, and structured.

She’s not the first one to do that. Precocious Isidore Ducasse, a.k.a. Lautréamont, used language in a new way when it came to metaphors — and then he died at the age of 24. Marcel Proust tried a different path. The Expressionists did it in another way, the Dadaists and Surrealists in their own ways.

In poetry, Stéphane Mallarmé, Guillaume Apollinaire, and Kenneth Patchen used typographical methods, as did e e cummings, who also turned the Shakespearean sonnet upside down. In prose, Alfred Bester enhanced a story by using typography. James Joyce created a new kind of language in Finnegan’s Wake. In my opinion, Diana Pollin seems to be on the Joycean track.

There are two major ways to handle a narrative in this way:

  1. Deform language for some exterior and private reasons but without justifying it within the story.
  2. Justify the innovation within the story, e.g. a person has a mental problem, causing the language to be distorted.

Both ways have been tried in order to expand the borders of storytelling and poetry.

But how to do it and keep the reader happy? In my humble opinion, Finnegan’s Wake is both exceedingly interesting and profoundly boring. Joyce overdoes innovation. At least at times it is more like Théophile Gautier’s l’art pour l’art turned into distorting language for the sake of distorting it.

However, unlike Joyce, Diana Pollin is not playing an intellectual game for the purpose of throwing something at literary scholars in order to keep them busy forever. Pollin is succeeding in telling a story while ultimately leaving the more experimental language behind. Interesting and not as boring as Joyce could be.

Copyright © 2009 by Bertil Falk

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