“Fantastic Dance of Images, Shapes, Forms”: Visuality and Fragmentation in Ann Quin’s Passages
This paper brings together aspects of visuality and fragmentation in Quin’s work, concentrating on her 1969 novel, Passages, in order to tease out the effects and implications of Quin’s formal fragmentariness. The visuality manifests itself in Passages through Quin’s borrowing of compositional techniques from the visual arts — layering effects from painting, shaping and cutting techniques from sculpture, the whole method of the textual cut-up. Quin splits her narrative in two sections seemingly narrated by each of the main characters, one female and one male. Applying painterly techniques to the former and sculptural to the latter, Quin’s narrative implicitly explores the habitual feminisation or masculinisation of certain aesthetic categories and modes of epistemological enquiry, as well as the unequal power relations of gender politics within a social context. Quin’s textual fragments do on some level cohere into a whole, but it is one riven with uncertainties, provoked specifically by the elliptical nature of the narrative, and complicated by Quin’s blurring of boundaries of all kinds — between characters, between binary categories, between narrative moments and locations. This resistance to categorisation — both on the level of individual fragments or passages of text, and of Quin’s work more generally — invites readers and critics to question the frameworks in which they are trying to place the parts, to challenge the rigidity of the categories themselves.
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