The Short Story as Miniature: Barry Callaghan's ‘The Black Queen’ and Gloria Sawai's ‘The Day I Sat with Jesus on the Sundeck and a Wind Came Up and Blew My Kimono Open and He Saw My Breasts’
- University of Toronto Quarterly
- University of Toronto Press
- Volume 69, Number 4, Fall 2000
- pp. 749-763
- Additional Information
MICHAEL TRUSSLER The Short Story as Miniature: Barry Callaghan's 'The Black Queen' and Gloria Sawai's 'The Day I Sat with Jesus on the Sundeck and a Wind Came Up and Blew MyKimono Open and He Saw My Breasts' In The Genesis ofSecrecy, Frank Kermode sympathetically refers to Wilhelm Dilthey's notion of the 'impression-point,' that incisive moment of a life or a text which 'gives articulation to the whole' (147I14). Concerned primarily with the 'impression-point' as an aspect of reading, Kermode is attentive to the provisional nature of such moments. He maintains that this particular exegetic approach may involve either 'discovery or choice' (16); that is, these openings need not be determined solely by textual guidance, but can instead be generated by the reader. While it is irresolvable whether a life or a text offers the unity necessary for an interpretation that relies upon the revelatory impression-point, it is readily apparent that the short story fundamentally solicits (and critiques) the hermeneutic examination of the relationship between part and whole. Traditionally, the genre has engaged the notion of the impression-point through its propensity for the epiphany, but one can expand this observation to say that short fiction generally activates a version of the hermeneutic circle. It is surprising that no short story theorist, to my knowledge, directly acknowledges hermeneutics as part of his or her methodology, since it is clear that the discipline 's earlyprinciples have generallyinfluenced the scholarlyand popular discourse surrounding the form. . There seems to be something intrinsic to the genre that impels numerous writers to speak ofit inholistic terms. Formalist criticism has furthered Edgar Allan Poe's dictum that a short story should strive for I a single effect' (47) by analysing the form's dependence upon imminent endings, which would be an instance of a textually directed impression-point.1 For Nadine Gordimer, to write a short story is to create 'the life-giving drop - sweat, tear, semen, saliva - that will spread an intensity on the page; burn a hole in it' (15). Irivoking the reciprocity between the body and its constituent parts, this cellular imagery parallels the metaphor underlying Dilthey's thinking; the verysmall intrinsically accommodates a larger whole. Intheir content! both classic and contemporary short stories thematize existential I would like to thank Lynn Wells for her helpful advice in the preparation of this article. 1 See Gerlach and Lohafer. UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY, VOLUME 691 NUMBER 4, FALL 2000 750 MICHAEL TRUSSLER identity, implicitly asking the question with which A.S. Byatt begins her review of Alice Munro's The Loveofa Good Woman: 'Do we experience life as a continuum or as a series of disconnected shocks and accidentsr (16). Although especially germane to Munro's writing, this inquiry is relevant to most short fiction, given the genre's overall accentuation of epistemological and ethical crisis. Complimenting Munro by comparing her work to Gustave Flaubert's Trois Contes, Byatt declares that Munro's short stories 'contain whole lives ... in the brief spaces of tales' (16). Byatt's high praise tacitly sets up a generic ideal: the short story should strive to compress the meaning of an entire life into a single incident or brief series of events. But how can we think through this generic correspondence between part and whole, this notion that the short story somehow extends beyond itself? Terry J. Martin proposes that John Barth's 'Petition' is 'a paradigmatic example of the short story as microcosm' (79). Although Martin's use of the Greek term is quite general- to him, Barth's story 'forms a microcosm of all human conflict' (79) - the notion of the microcosm offers a preliminary means of understanding the short story's engagement with a larger totality. However, to call upon such an obsolete epistemology is immediately to be plunged into difficulties. Consider George Boas's definition: 'The idea indicated by the couple, Macrocosm-Microcosm, is the belief that there exists between the universe and the individual human being an identity both anatomical and psychical' (126). Because few individuals would admit that an 'identical' concordanceexistsbetween the' human subject and the cosmos, perhaps it would be simplest to say that when contemporary...