Style and Technique

The author of this story, Guy Davenport, has his own term to describe his style. He calls it “assemblage.” Blocks of narrative are arranged in a series with no chronological order. Each piece in the assemblage is titled, whether it is a two-page description of Gaudier-Brzeska’s wife or a single line explaining the nickname (“La Rosalie”) of the bayonet (“so called because we draw it red from the round guts of pig eyed Germans”).

This “assemblage” style emphasizes the story’s visual presence and structure. To heighten the visual even more, Davenport insets his drawings of Gaudier-Brzeska’s statues, drawings, and photos of the sculptor. The subject of the story, Gaudier-Brzeska, presides even in the interstices. Gaudier-Brzeska contributed to the birth of a new style of sculpture, one that created emotion in the viewer through the abstract arrangement of planes. Sculpting the head of Ezra Pound, he explained that no natural resemblance would result: “It will look like your energy.” Davenport’s technique—the fragmenting of narrative, the use of real historical people as characters, the quoting of real letters (and creative transpositions of real letters)—owes much to the revolution all artistic forms underwent in the early twentieth century. As a story it is a graph of the author’s peculiarly bright, visualizing mind as it confronts the subject—the sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska. There are sharp twists, assimilations, sudden pictures, sharp edges of single sentences that work more like a poetic line than narrative. The art of such technique lies in striking from discontinuous surfaces the desired result of irony, contrast, or restatement. French erupts to conclude the second half of a paragraph begun in English. In one fragment, Gaudier-Brzeska’s captain praises him for his bravery, and in the next, the obscure mother of the dead sculptor laments his passing. The style forces the reader to pay attention to the text in a new way. It challenges the reader to interpret, to discern, without the help of transitions, introductions, and footnotes. The result, for the attentive reader, is a sense of history much brighter than history read in textbooks. In “The Bowmen of Shu,” it creates a graph of an outmoded concept: the hero.


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Vandiver, Elizabeth. “Fireflies in a Jar.” Parnassus: Poetry in Review 21 (Winter, 1995): 59-76.