Adam Dickinson’s polymorphous polymers

9781770892170_1024x1024Adam Dickinson. The Polymers (House of Anansi Press 2013).

Plastic can be many things, & there are many polymers that make them up. Adam Dickinson has taken plastic as a polyverbal entity & action, & played with as many of its metaphorical possibilities as he can in this provocative & entertaining (if also slyly didactic) book.

At the end, in ‘Materials and Methods,’ he offers some clues to the various ‘experimental protocols’ he observed throughout. That each of the varied & various pieces is a separate experiment & yet that they work so efficiently as writerly-to-readerly texts testifies to his careful construction throughout. Polymeric perversity rules! And what fun ensues.

The major metaphoric transformation underlying The Polymers has to do with how plastics change the world in which humans (‘macromolecules’ as Dickinson puts it) continue to change as we press scientific & technological changes upon the (so-called) natural world. He has assembled an interesting twist on eco-poetics here, wherein the ‘poems’ of The Polymers insist on their artificial construction (no lyric naturalism here). Whatever the moral(s) of The Polymers, its ‘arguments’ slyly slide behind the play of language & documentation.

‘The game does not come to us naturally,’ after all; & ‘We are not good thinkers of the game.’ That’s stated near the end, a kind of summing up, except in this game there can be no summing up. As another later piece puts it, ‘a man-eating shark / is not a man eating / shark meat.’ Which is to say, language is plastic too, as in malleable, able to be shaped as plastic is, & as artificial, an invention.

So the reader moves into this polymer maze & takes her chances on find he way(s) through. Each reader, bringing his own knowledge to bear, will find different insights & implications. Each will laugh at different lines, mostly ruefully I suspect. As I did at this: ‘Mosquitoes pass along malaria like constructive criticism, while the buzz on the street is run-on sentences accruing in prisons with dangled modifiers and infinitives split along party lines.’ Or, more to the political point: ‘Future generations will / consider detergents / shockingly feeble / instruments of thought.’

The Polymers does a good job of defamiliarizing the news of the world we are driving to ecological destruction, using that most familiar & ubiquitous material now ‘That plastic patch in the Pacific // stealing all our shit.’ It’s also perhaps even more relevant to Canadians now (as the Conservative government rams Bill C-51 through Parliament) than even a year or so ago, at least the section on ‘The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,’ with its sly assumption that it ‘represents an important milestone in material science’ & later that ‘At such a high molecular weight, the Charter’s constitution both drips and bounces.’ Well, The Polymers certainly bounces, as will any reader’s brain after playing its games, which are definitely constructed to be win/win.

Oh, & just like Adam Dickinson, I typed this on plastic keys.

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