A slim volume of short essays that explore the possibilities (and impossibilities) of language.
Vigderman (English/Kenyon Coll.; The Memory Palace of Isabella Stewart Gardner, 2007) specializes in elliptical, epigrammatic insight that makes connections that readers might not otherwise perceive. Most of the essays (many of them little longer than a page or two) were published independently, and all can stand on their own, but the author has provided a conceptual framework and thread of continuity as she groups them into four parts, moving from “Internal Conversations” to “The Measure of Grief” in the opening and two most compelling sections. “When we are with art we are calling from a loss of ourselves, and yet one’s reason is also always part of the landscape,” she writes in the opening essay, “The Task of the Translator,” which addresses the challenge of translating not only art, but also experience into language. She closes the collection with a reference to San Francisco’s Coit Tower, cinematically and in actuality: “The place is magic you can walk in and out of, an Escher drawing in which life and art can’t be seen at the same time and also can’t be seen except as they give shape to each other.” Perhaps the most provocative essay and the emotional centerpiece is “My Depressed Person (A Monologue),” which interweaves a critical assessment of David Foster Wallace’s short story “The Depressed Person” with Vigderman’s own experience dealing with the depression of someone close to her, and perhaps her own as well. Proust, Sebald and Henry Adams are also subject to her literary examination, but the essays range wide over geography and theme, whether exploring a landscape “that unhinges ordinary response” or coming to terms with “the rupture in my own life.”
Frequent illumination within the density of compression, as the writer challenges readers to determine what they’re thinking and feeling about what she’s thinking and feeling.