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Fragmented Literature: What Does It Achieve?

Modernist texts are often heavily fragmented – the plot is jumbled and does not follow a simple beginning to end chronology. This can be off-putting for many readers as it can make a story hard to follow and less immersive.

However, what are the benefits and what does writing in fragments achieve? An article could look at a selection of texts that are fragmented and offer an analysis of what this particular structure is doing.

For example, in Kaddish for an Unborn Child by Imre Kertesz, the plot keeps circling back to the same line, its repetition representing the repetitive trauma it has caused the protagonist. Or, in The Corpse Washer by Sinan Antoon, the plot is broken up by page long chapters detailing the nightmares had by the protagonist which can show how they interject in his life just as they have interjected into the plot.
There are many works of literature that fragment the narrative and do so for thoughtful and strategic reasons. Thus, exploring texts that do this meaningfully could be an interesting read!

  • I suppose in literature that would be food for thought. But, I can emphatically say that it occurs in film as well. Take for instance the film Raging Bull. To the untrained eye or first time viewer, the boxing scenes appear fragmented, or improperly edited. In fact, it is a deliberate technique known as image collision. Effectively what it does is arrange a sequence of scene cuts with no apparent flow between them. The viewer is left to fill in the gaps or smooth over the perforations in the actor's activity and the camera movement. In the process, the audience is drawn into the cinematic spectacle before them. I would be interested in knowing if this a common practice in literature as well. (Aside from the obvious example, Alice in Wonderland.) – L:Freire 10 months ago
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  • Interesting. Modernism was a reaction against the inflexible confines of Victorian literature that preceded it. The motif of the circle, as in Kertesz's text, is an alternative to the traditionally linear conception of experience. The Modernist's realised that individual experience is not as simple as a traditional linear narrative with one major point of conflict; we think back, we reconsider, we hypothesise. The Modernists simply reflected this reality in the forms of their works. – hlewsley 8 months ago
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  • I find fragmented writing to be very confusing, but very intriguing as well. A reader following a straight line can get tiring and boring. Putting in fragments adds not only a timeline to a story, but also adds depth to characters, settings, and plot. The reader is able to tie things together themselves rather than have someone tell them which is more entertaining. – devdroses 5 months ago
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  • I don't really see "fragmented" stories as innately more confusing than linear ones. If you think about it, any story that starts in medias res or uses flashbacks--especially more than a couple of times--is making use of non-linear storytelling. That being said, probably one of the most infamous "fragmented" stories is The Trial, a novel by Franz Kafka. In that case, the reason why it's so fragmented is because the story was discovered after the author's death, and he hadn't managed to complete the story or put the pieces in order in the first place. Another interesting example of non-linear storytelling is in the movie Memento. The protagonist of that movie suffers from an inability to make new memories, and so the entire story is told in reverse, with the later events being shown first and the earlier events shown later, so that the audience can realize how confusing and misleading it would be to live in such a way. – Debs 5 months ago
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  • What an interesting topic! This could be a hard one to write because temporal shifts and fragmented plots work to “achieve” different purposes for different Modernists. Perhaps a thesis that explores a few common effects of the narrative style within a particular subset of Modernist writing would work well. One might consider narrowing to the early Modernists or even just the early female Modernists, for instance. Or, contrarily, a broader survey of Modernists using the style over time to achieve the same purpose would be super interesting, too. Again, keeping the focus narrow will be difficult, but I think it would produce a rewarding piece. – JCBohn 4 months ago
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