Tuesday, May 8, 2018

One Paper Clip: Detail, Design, Depth

            WOW! Right?  Who knew that there were so many parts to a paper clip, that they were worth naming?  That each name has history? Did you know, too, that the standard ubiquitous paper clip in the image above is known as a “trombone” clip?  How poetic!  To see the shape as reminiscent of the brass instrument!

            According to Uncyclopedia, the trombone clip as we know it was invented by King George VI and Elvis Costello—hence the name of the upper point, and the whimsical reference to the comedy team naming the lower point “Abbott.”  The paper clip functions not only to fasten papers together without puncturing them (as sewing pins once did or staples do), but as pin-curl pins, quick eyeglass fixes, wrapping paper security—jewelry, card displays, and art, in general.  The uses are infinite—anywhere from fingernail picking to TV rabbit ears.

            So let’s think about “fractals,” defined by dictionary.com as

a curve or geometric figure, each part of which has the same statistical character as the whole. Fractals are useful in modeling structures (such as eroded coastlines or snowflakes) in which similar patterns recur at progressively smaller scales, and in describing partly random or chaotic phenomena such as crystal growth, fluid turbulence, and galaxy formation.

One image of a fractal figure would be a larger scale sculpture of a paper clip, fashioned out of paper clips, as in this work I commissioned from Luke Gibbons and Daniella Richardson:

We have a vision of the larger sculpture by coming to know any one of the paper clips of which it is comprised.  

            Let’s think of this sculpture as symbolic of, let’s say, an interpretation of a play by William Shakespeare. If we, as set forth in the post on First Words, delve into the first word of the play or of a character in it, we will have a generative focus for understanding the whole play or aspects of the character throughout it.  So then, focusing on one paper clip—let’s say the one detachable clip on the right side of the Gibbons/Richardson sculpture—would allow us to understand the whole play/sculpture.

            Too often, student writers attempt to write about every single paper clip—every scene in which Lady Macbeth appears, every line of Emily Dickinson’s poem “My Life had stood — a Loaded Gun.” Such essays doggedly annotate every line of a sonnet, in sequence.  Oh no!  I say to myself, when such a paper gets to paraphrasing the second line of the sonnet.  Thirteen more of this grind! Thorough papers are plodding and boring to write, and plodding and boring to read. A poem written by this method will start, let’s say, with saying something about Monday, and then, when the poem gets to Tuesday, I groan—Oh no!  Not six more days through which to trudge. The same with a story that starts with breakfast and clearly will march through to bedtime. Another structure symptomatic of this thorough/not deep mode is the attempt to “cover” the whole play, scene by scene; or the novel or book, chapter by chapter—leading to cursory summaries, no originality, and superficial/clich├ęd claims.  If we were to review the Gibbons/Richardson sculpture this way, we would say “shoot me now” the moment we realized that we had to talk about every paper clip the sculptors used.  It’s futile and a waste of time to do so.

            Here’s another metaphor: imagine that there is a treasure at the bottom of a lake.  If we flit across the surface like a Jesus lizard or a climbing perch—a series of superficial steps on the surface—we will never find our way to the treasure.  We must choose a spot and dive in deep.  

            The take away from this post is this:  Don’t be thorough, be deep.  Choose one word, or line, or scene of literature, and delve in there.  The treasures you harvest will offer insights to the whole poem, scene, character, essay, story, novel, or play.  

            Getting to know one paper clip—its parts, its metal, its design—will tell you about all paper clips.  In the case of literary interpretation, we will all and individually and at different times, see different fractal designs—and one part will resonate across the work.

Don’t be thorough—be deep.

One paper clip.  

"But I have more than one paper clip sculpture," the author objects--ironically, so. 

Here are two more visions of paper clip fractals.  How would you analogize these renditions to the process of interpretation?

The first, by student artists Greg Stengel, Emily Yataco, Abhimanyu Singh:

And this, by student sculptors Eric Miele, Rachel Aguiar, and Maria DiDario:


Very special thanks to Kean University Professor Stephanie Beck for embracing this commission for paper clip sculptures and for guiding her students to create these imaginative pieces; and to the student sculptors for their brilliance and devotion.

Works Cited: