Collage

Collage is closely related to mosaic. But it doesn't tend to yield an overall picture. Its component parts remain parts, individual and isolated.

Imagine a picture that's composed of a few newspaper clippings, a pair of scissors and a plastic doll's head glued to the canvas, some big blurs of red paint, and some mustard-colored corduroy cut into oblong shapes with threads dangling out. That's collage.

The energy comes either from various kinds of violent, extreme contrast—surprising uxtapositions (things not ordinarily related, side by side: for instance, a department store dummy with a hinged door in its torso that reveals a photo of a fetus in a jar), or disjunctions (things normally related which are separated or distorted, like the features of a person in a Picasso paint-ing)—or a great deal of intricate detail within the parts (like a Rube Goldberg drawing of an incredibly and ridiculously complicated machine for getting you up in the morning, including a chicken pecking grain, a rising balloon hitting a nail, a chute down which marbles scamper, a dog trying to catch a cat, and so forth).

Because any collage is a diverse collection of disparate elements, it's hard to characterize the form except in the most general fashion. Each work is unlike all others. The classic example is probably Don Quixote by Cervantes, consisting of more-or-less random adventures and confrontations, built on the contrast between the way the Don sees the world and the way his more hard-headed companion Sancho perceives it. Another classic is Sterne's unique Tristram Shandy, with its blank pages, marbled pages, disquisitions on the deeper meanings of a falling hat, and so on. Some modern examples would be Heller's Catch-22, and much of Vonnegut's fiction, including Cat's Cradle and Slaughter-houseFive.

There are collage components in Dos Passos' U. S. A., with its "Camera Eye" newsreels and profiles interspersed with the various plots. Another contemporary and very unsettling example is Jerzy Kosinsky's ThePaintedBird, a succession of awful people and experiences a child encounters while wandering around rural Poland during the Second World War. (Or maybe it's a slice-of-life or a theme story, or maybe a bit of all, combined. Collage is such a catchall that few stories are pure collage. They tend to shade into other forms, if only to gain some semblance of structure.)

The Rube Goldberg school of intricate detail is demonstrated by Peake's Gormenghast books, with their bizarre explorations of architecture, weird characters, long, meandering discussions of the habits of owls, and endlessly convoluted plots. Herbert's Dune also comes close, with its scraps from future histories, royal journals, sayings of philosophers past, present, and future, and multiple alien cultures, in spite of a strong and melodramatic central plot. Ursula Le Guin's Always ComingHome, with its myths and folk song tape, is another science fiction work which is much more a collage than a plotted work.

The diversity and endless invention of this kind of grab-bag fiction can create an impression of great exuberance—that there's a place for shoes, ships, sealing wax, cabbages, kings, and even a kitchen sink or two. And according to the poet Blake, "Exuberance is Beauty."

The tricky things in collage are holding it together within a single frame, giving it even the appearance of unity, and knowing when it ought to be over.

The strengths of collage are the startling quality of its fragmentary images, the sudden jumps and quick cuts, the diversity of the elements it assembles and uses.

Collage may seem random, but should never actually be so. The connections between and among the flashing scenes and images should come clear if one reads hard enough. But it's definitely not a form for a beginner.

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