Two Stitch Day

Two Stitch Day

Bad things happen in the trenches, there is no other way to put it. I don’t want to remember them, but I don’t think it’s right to pretend as if they didn’t happen. So on a bad day I get some thread and make a stitch on my left sleeve. On a really bad day I make two.

Today is a two stitch day and it’s only halfway through. Lately I have more two stitch days than not. My left sleeve is filling up. I can feel the rough threads pressing into my arm where my clothes have soaked through. It’s raining, but when is it not?

The damp here is so tangible that I can taste it on my tongue, and woven through it all is the horrible festering scent of decay. It winds its’ way through every twist and turn, seeping into the grey dirt of the trench walls. It is the cloying scent of rot that truly makes the place repellent. If the damp is palpable and content to linger on ones tongue, then the rot is a presence that overwhelms and attempts to claw its’ way down your throat, so that it’s all you can do not to retch.

One wouldn’t think we’d be able to eat in such conditions. But we do, starving as we are. It’s why I sit with my back against a stinking grey wall off rot, legs drawn up and soaking wet as I choke down my rations. There are weevils in the biscuits. Little white bodies that wiggle about, almost waving hello. At the start we’d tap the biscuits to get the little creepy crawlies out. Now we just bite in and pretend not too feel the squirming, glad of the extra protein.

Things have been getting worse. Or maybe it’s that I’ve been getting worn down. All the dogs are long since eaten, even though they were mangy and flee bitten. Just another thing gone. We’re losing more than we’re gaining and I can’t seem to care. The rain that used to seem refreshing, washing away the blood, is now mocking. Never-ending it pours from the sky, turning everything to slick sludge so that we are forever caked in mud and every step is an effort. It makes the days grey, but that might be the War. Everyone keeps dying.

I hear the slick squelch of someone’s boots tromping though the mud and tilt the brim of my hat up to see who. It’s Arthur. He comes closer and crouches beside me on the rotting wooden planks meant to keep the mud away. He’s got a handful of rations and is wearing the same oil skin cloak as me. The cloaks would keep the rain off in small showers but did little for the downpour we were sitting in, the trenches offering little in the way of shelter.

“How you likin’ lunch? Reckon I could do with some o’ mama’s home cooking, that’s for sure.”

I have trouble looking at Arthur. He wears a smile like a bad mask; jarring and fake it reminds me of things I don’t want to remember. That’s what the stitches are for. Still, I can’t begrudge him how he copes; I make stitches, and he smiles. That doesn’t mean I look at him when I talk.

“I don’t remember what it’s like to be full and warm. Do you?” That isn’t what he wants to hear. I shouldn’t have said it. Arthur wants me to banter back so that we can share some hollow laughter and pretend things are good. But I can’t pretend anymore.

Arthur looks away, “Of course.”

I keep looking at him until he fidgets a little and admits, “Well maybe it’s more like imagination than memory – they’re about the same things anyway right. Right?” The question edges into panic as Arthur repeats it. The smile doesn’t slip, it becomes larger as I watch, stretching in a horrible parody of what amusement should be. He wants me to agree with him, to lie, and I can’t deny him that, not when it’s so clearly what he wants. I don’t have to believe it. I don’t even have to pretend to believe it. I just have to say it.

“Right.”

The stiff lines of his body relax again and the fevered panic that sharpened his features fades, letting his face fall back into its’ usual drawn lines. The rigid smile settling on his lips again. My fingers twitch, but I’ve already made enough stitches for today.

Arthur chatters on at me. I idly run my hand across my sleeve, fingers catching on the stitches there. All I see is grey. A horn sounds, hollow and echoing. Arthur stands. So do I. Time to fight. Maybe die. I stand amongst my fellow soldiers and can’t care that all their faces are washed out, indistinguishable from the grey. I don’t think I can live through another two stitch day. I don’t think I want to.

 

Jayde Taylor

 

The Many Forms of Form

Literature and philosophy have been inseparably entwined in the thoughts of humankind since we first had such thoughts about such things. Almost all our modern thinking about narrative structure and form has its foundations, at least in part, in Aristotle’s famous examination of story, Poetics, which itself was a product of centuries of development of dramatic art and narrative experimentation.

school of athens

The stories we tell have impact far beyond narrative content and plot elements such as character, place and time. Indeed the way we say something is just as important as what we are saying when it comes to the influence and interpretation of meaning in narrative art.

Form is a many-faceted concept for just this reason. When we try to list form or define it in some way, we inevitably find a myriad of cross-overs between other literary elements, most particularly structure and genre (even Wikipedia has trouble). These techniques and concepts become indelibly linked in our cultural consciousness as a byproduct of the way we develop certain constructions around certain types of stories.

Literature can be said to be divided into the grand dichotomy of poetry and prose. But even there we have problems when we start to identify the way in which these two literary metrics can be presented.

Then we may try to list the grand narrative media in an exhaustive and mutually exclusive list of constructs, from longer narratives:

  • Novel
  • Epic poem
  • Drama

To shorter narratives:

  • Poem
  • Novella
  • Short story
  • Vignette
  • Legend
  • Myth
  • Folk tale

And then we should consider the performative arts who often have their own distinct formal constructs:

  • Theatre
  • Film
  • Song

And then we ask, should dance be included or is it non-literary, even though it is also a narrative form?

Then consider informative texts. Do they have their own structural conceits? Do they classify as separate forms of writing?

  • Historical novels
  • Literary non-fiction
  • Biography and autobiography
  • Documentary
  • News
  • Persuasive arguments
  • Thesis & analysis

What about functionality and purpose? Does that play into the divisions of form?

  • Fairy tales
  • Morality tales
  • Teaching parables
  • Analogy & symbology

And of course broad-spectrum genre is a major form qualifier:

  • Fantasy
  • Epic
  • Comedy
  • Tragedy
  • Drama
  • Quest

And the many derivative narrative structures that have sprung up over the most recent decades as technology plays into the way we communicate our stories to each other:

  • Blogs
  • Forums
  • Music videos
  • Short films
  • Tweets
  • Status updates
  • Flash fiction
  • Vines

All of these forms, from the grand multi-volume works to the one-hundred and forty characters, have intricately linked cultural associations attached to the way they are presented. A play in the Shakespearean style may have five acts, employ poetic metre, follow the conventions of tragedy or comedy, and even include songs and musical numbers. A fantasy narrative may take the form of either a multi-volume novel or an epic poem, media themselves bound in pre-conceived structural nuance, employing well-rehearsed act-divisions and conventional literary techniques such as catalogue, dialogue, monologue, and even deeper formative layers of allusion to legend and myth.

Narrative form as a classifiable entity came under specific academic study in the 1950s, after the great revolutions of the Modernist period threw all previous conventional understandings of form into flux. Since then several schools of thought have sought to demystify the question of form for philosophical and technical reasons, in aid of both the audience and the auteur.

Clearly this is a topic too vast for one discussion, or even one series of discussions. So over the coming weeks we will explore the modern concepts of form and structure and how they apply to narrative art in contemporary practice, examining the theories of narrative form developed since the 1950s. We will touch briefly on the works of structuralists such as Joseph Campbell and Northrop Frye, to that of post-strcuturalists like Michel Foucault and then on into the most recent decades where the advent of screen culture has brought about the revival of the oldest known form of story-telling, the ubiquitous and oft-bemoaned three-act narrative.

To get yourself started, have a look at the seasonal myth theory of Northrop Frye and then this brilliant introduction to Joseph Campbell’s hero narrative.

Look close enough and you will see these monomythic stories everywhere, leaving us to wonder whether there are a myriad of different forms as diverse and nuanced as life itself, or if there is really only one true story, told over and over again in many different guises, tracing back over all narratives since the beginning of time.

 

Elise Janes