Three Ways of Looking at It
Lynn Crawford, Fortification Resort (Black Square Editions, 2005)
Perhaps it is inevitable that a book which takes issues of representation as its topic would be both beautiful and terrifying. How could that not be, after all, when sentences grafted one onto the other are not only representing the “real,” but self-consciously creating it.
Lynn Crawford has always been deft at making strange worlds seem familiar, and familiar ones strange. In Fortification Resort, her fourth book, she succeeds in creating worlds even more vertiginous by design than any she has made in the past.
For, if Crawford is investigating any thing in this collection other than the process by which language signifies, then it is the act of representation in media other than language.
The seventeen prose pieces in the book are all responses to works of visual art, most of which Crawford first encountered in her role as art reviewer and critic for The Detroit Metro Times. As a result, though one piece in the collection concerns the work of Damien Hirst, and another student work from the Maryland Institute of Contemporary Art, it is primarily the work of Detroit-based artists to which Crawford responds. Explaining her reasons for initiating the project, Crawford writes in her introduction that she began writing the pieces as a “way of prolonging engagement with [work that] I was not ready to leave.”
Combining the language she has collected from the experience of viewing a particular work of art with the constraint of the sestina form, Crawford then crafts pieces that are commenting on an artistic object while at the same time creating one. In “Eco-Lady,” a short story that responds to several pieces of student work at the Maryland Institute of Contemporary Art, Crawford writes, “The motto’s initials are framed in gray brick, and formed with pebbles, acorns, twigs, cones collected from our modern forestpark, below the hill near the dirty water; you’d never recognize they are synthetic; with Grandma, nothing is pure; the constructed and natural run good-naturedly together.” And so it is not just for Grandma, but for Crawford. You have to wend your way carefully through this maze of constructed emotions, false landscapes, and fantastic suburbs, with every step just making you wonder all the more where reality really lies, and if anything other than an artificially created version of it can ever be found at all.
Sound dizzying? It can be, though at the same time the collection is playful, original, and thought-provoking. Crawford’s use of the sestina form is entirely successful in allowing her to experiment with language and storytelling. The collection may be somewhat constrained by the fact that Fortification Resort does not include images of the artworks that first initiated these prose experiments. Not only will many readers be unfamiliar with the work of most artists Crawford is referring to, but they may have some difficulty accessing the multiple ways in which each piece signifies: that is, not only as short fiction, but as dialogue with, and comment on, another work of art. That said, one has to respect the decision to let the writing stand on its own, and anyone interested in fully experiencing these pieces as multiperspectival objects can easily access images of the artworks on the Web. In other words, regardless of your personal feelings about the advantages or disadvantages of coupling image and text, serious readers, writers, and visual artists will want to read and study this book.