Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation and the Revival of Fragmentary Writing
Keywords:fragmentary writing, experimental literature, collage, architectonic novel, spatial form
The last decade has seen a revival of interest in novels that follow a fragmentary structure. David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas (2005), J. M. Coetzee’s Diary of a Bad Year (2007) and Richard McGuire’s graphic novel Here (2014) are among the most notable examples of recent works that reject a linear plot narrative and a set of standard “readerly” expectations. This article outlines the scope of the current proliferation of fragmentary writing —a category which rarely features in Anglophone (as opposed to French) literary criticism— and delineates its characteristic ingredients. After introducing the main tenets and examples of the six most common categories of fragmentary texts, the article discusses two theoretical frameworks for analysing such works: Joseph Frank’s notion of the spatial form and Sharon Spencer’s idea of the architectonic novel. The latter conception is applied to a close analysis of the structural variety and randomised composition of one of the most recent and critically acclaimed fragmentary novels —Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation (2014), which offers a non-linear and highly intertextual account of a marriage crisis narrated with the use of several hundred loosely connected paragraphs, composed of narrative snippets, multiple quotations, seemingly unrelated anecdotes and scientific curiosities.
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