Ana Patova Crosses a Bridge
By Renee Gladman
Dorothy, a publishing project
Reviewed by Tom DeBeauchamp
Ana Patova Crosses a Bridge is two books in one. After the title page and Renee Gladman's acknowledgements, the work belongs to Ana Patova, a fictional author who gives her own introduction, her own title—Enclosures—and her own narration to the remainder of the text. It's not hard to call one of these books real, and the other fictitious. Both contain fictions, but only one has an ISBN number, reviews written of it, blurbs, and a cover with bright art. The other—Ana Patova's—exists only within that book's fictive space. Separating the fictive and the real is certainly an old trope in fiction, and as such, readers have no difficulty drawing a line between one level of being and another. Even so, the bold and simple line between the real and the fictive is gray and nuanced, and not actually one line at all, but many. The lines between, if you look long enough, become all there is. In Ana Patova Crosses a Bridge (and in Enclosures) we are presented with a crisis. Though it cannot be described entirely, cannot be contained by words, writing, or any other medium of human understanding, it has at least to do with that ineffable distance separating the real from the imagined, the objective from the subjective, the original from its copies.
If Ana Patova Crosses a Bridge consists of front matter and Enclosures, Enclosures consists of 57 short, unnumbered vignettes, each enclosing, on a page-and-a-half or so, a thin column of text, itself enclosed, fully surrounded, by whitespace. These enclosures look and sound like poetry, make use of the half-comma breath at the end of each line like poetry, assert their lineated-ness like poetry, but they don't feel like poetry. Lined prose, perhaps. One distinction between the two forms is their basic semantic unit, the line in poetry versus the sentence in prose. In Gladman and Patova's book, the primacy of either unit is slippery. Sometimes the sentence contains the line, sometimes the line contains the sentence. The effect is like a set of Matryoshka dolls, but instead of a gradual decrease/increase in size, every unit is both the next smallest and the next largest, everything both containing and contained. With every idea contorting as it progresses, the portion at hand is a kind of totality in itself. In the book, the units, while maintaining their singularity, form and imply a larger whole.
It's the same with people, though the crisis prevents the people of Ravicka, Gladman's fictional city-state, from seeing it. Patova writes:
[...] As a country
this was our crisis: getting other people
to see what we were seeing. And it
wasn't as if there was this multitude of
idylls we simply couldn't share but, rather,
for the most part, there was only one
idyll and for everyone else a void.
That is to say, it's not merely a question of seeing the same thing from a very different perspective, which would imply an objective outside thing itself, but seeing, simply seeing, hallucinating, dreaming, having visions, envisioning, seeing. You are the container for your experiences, your visions, and so long as the lines separating you from others remain uncrossed, communication and connection remain impossible.
When Hausen, one of the literati, finally (or for the nth time) disappears, Patova says, "[...] it / was as if [...] / something was polluting the / social environment. People stopped / gathering." The crisis threatens the very concept of public space. They wonder of the "public / plaza—whether it could be called / public anymore, whether, if no one / gathered there, it still could be 'our / plaza,' our ciut centali." With no objective field on which to conduct their sociality, and in response to the isolation and melancholia of life at a distance, Ravicka's literati write. Textuality comes to replace their lost sociality. But this too serves only to increase the sheer volume of distance separating them from their object(s).
We tried to understand the crisis on a
large scroll of paper that many of us
carried through the city [...].
It was something unfurling,
taking the place of events that were no
longer occurring [...].
The crisis happened in our eyes and in
our imaginations, how we made sense of
what we saw, the flinty bridges between,
but there was nothing we could do about
our eyes, so we carried the scroll of
Quickly, the documentation of the private happenings of their eyes and imaginations forms a dimension of its own. It fails to capture the object, the crisis itself, but exerts its own influence on the writers:
the scroll became the
heaviest thing in the city, the most
engaging and the most inscrutable. The
more people there were to carry it, the
more bulky it grew—how quickly its
surface was covered, how quickly
erased of logic and organization, yet
how quickly a community document,
a blur of symbols, a grid [...].
You began to take on other
people's sentiments, because of the weight
and translucence of the scroll, because
the threads of the paper did not take well
to ink, because ink was all there was.
Though the scroll—both a Facebook-style echo chamber and an allegory for all textuality period—provides a kind of social environment, an exchange for the repetition of ideas and the display of accomplishments, it offers no connections and no way out of the crisis at hand. Abandoning the scroll, Patova and the literati continue to write and continue to attempt to gather. Eventually, their books combine, moving through one another. The hollowness of the scroll, the flatness of the space it contains, gives way to one definition of the object sought: "The object / was to arrive (deserted) and open your / face and yell the name of your friend."
It is this leap of faith, this arrival at a nothing space without any objective backing, a deserted space, filling it with language, with a friend's name, that bridges the many-lined gaps between subjects. When Ana Patova hails her friend, the poet Zàoter Limici, some of the isolation is beaten back, the longed-for group comes to be.
A group happened, because place and
time had done something to you: you
were waiting for a train, you were waiting
for a city to stabilize, for its buildings to
stay in place, for traffic to return, for
there to be traffic, and you wanted to
write about it, even though you didn't
understand it, and you wanted other
people to read what you wrote—your
friends, who were also writing—and you
wanted language to move out of you and
out of them into the space between you
and for it to do some extraordinary thing
of bending and becoming, in the way of
these bodies surrounding the table, for
language to take on dimensions of the
body and for the books you wrote to
come out this way, as light bodies.
The social is only constructed when language moves "out of you and out of them into the space between you." Our personal and self-contained images and experiences are meaningless when they remain static in a single container. Ravicka's sadness, its crisis, is a result of this stasis. Only by bridging the gap between containers, can the resonant material within each be activated.
In each of Enclosures' enclosures the narrative line contorts, the endnotes look back to the first notes, the middle curls a path between. Though each separate enclosure, each sentence, each line, each word even, indexes its own private meanings, the book as a whole contains them all, and is shaped by a similar contortion. Where it starts with the distance implicit in distinction, it ends with that same distance intact, only bridged by a need for connection. Each distinction too remains intact, but rather than an un-crossable waste, each crystalizes with all the others to form a still larger container. At the end of her book, Patova says, "We decided that each copy / was also an original, perhaps not on the / level of the first original but passing on to / those looking for it some new category / of being." It's in this sense that every organization—of people, of pages, of crises—is an original. Ana Patova Crosses a Bridge lends an allegory to this "new category / of being," showing ultimately that it's not a bridge between the objective and subjective that's needed, but one between all the different subjectives, and all the different copies.