300 Arguments in Under 300 Words
Sarah Manguso’s prose reads like a diary: executed in one sentence bits which together creates content which is in constant play with form. Too often content and form are seen as two separate bodies that meet only before final assembly, when really it’s balanced like a vase with flowers in it. Both a vase and arrangement of flora can be beautiful on their own, but when combined their beauty is reflected in each other. During reading, I kept wanting to find one continuous image to give me a clue to whether there was a plot or not. I felt I was on the cusp of discovery at so many page turns but it never presented itself to me. I don’t doubt there is was underlying story throughout the arguments, but I couldn’t see it. What I was left was with that it wasn’t my time yet – I as a reader wasn’t ready to find a reflection of myself in the collection. Maybe in a few months I will pick it up again and something will stand out to me, but today I can just reflect on the beauty of the individual arguments.
The maxims, the shadowy reflections, and the finite confessions found in the book showcase the completeness of a short story. Manguso’s assortment of aphorisms snowball into each other, gathering momentum while keeping in the style of brief visual bits and clips of text. Throughout the book’s arguments we can sense a presence that merely wants clarification, inspiration, and the gift of pure impulse. As you read further and further into 300 Arguments, you’ll find yourself asking whether your life has been cohesive and contiguous or if it’s just fragmented memories strung along in your mind. This is the question Manguso seeks to resolve on her book, and though it feels she fails to answer that for herself, she gives us readers counsel through her arguments when she states “The word ‘fragment’ is often misused to describe anything smaller than a bread box, but an 800-page book is no more complete or unbroken than a ten-line poem. That’s confusing size with integrity. An ant is not a fragment of an elephant except orthographically.”
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