Chris Turnbull’s continua(lly) performative twists & turns

continua_coverChris Turnbull. continua. (Chaudiere Books 2015)

There are many possible ways to read continua, a multi-voiced, verbal & pictorial collage text the square pages of which shape a reading anew each time one opens the book. For the moment, I’m going to suggest that one way is to treat each page as a visual field, a kind of print to be seen as much as read (including the many photographs interspersed with the texts). The pages are filled with fragments in various type faces & sizes, all demanding simultaneous responses but because they are words making it impossible to give them that.

On another hand, Turnbull thanks ‘those who have performed continua with me.’ And it certainly helps to see/hear the various bits & pieces overlapping & contra-dictating at one another on many of these pages as engaged in a heightened conversation where everyone is talking at once.

Among those rhetorics playing off against one another on these visually engaging pages, Turnbull has included what appear to be personal recollections, historical & ecological statements about the Rideau Canal, architectural arguments, & much else. Who (and how many) are making these textual & photographic comments remains illusive, but not illusory: the sheer accumulation of information, however much of it is lost in archive, memory, or natural decay, is material.

continua shifts among many different & differing rhetorics: found prose from various documents; diary entries; historical documentation in both words & images; poetic meditations. Some pages are so full of text(s) that overlap(s) & interrupt(s), that the eye does not know where to begin taking it in. Others seem clearer, where, say, the phrase ‘got // lost // looking’ appears beside a photo of a few links of chain; below & to the right, in another type, ‘days clean pass, / I forgets and it / gets away’; bottom left in smaller type yet, ‘refusal to permit the closure of form’ (which might serve as the rallying cry of the whole book); & almost impossible to see bottom right, in very light grey shade, ‘lichen shows up / stone here, / crenellated musing’. How to read all that (following a page of 2 almost mirroring [quite literally, as one is upside down beneath the other] pieces of near-hallucinatory descriptions accompanied by ‘clean window’ for the upper & ‘oublier’ for the lower) is part of the quest continua lays out for its readers (& performers).

In its final pages, continua moves to an almost imagistic simplicity of utterance, each page floating just a few phrases or words; after all ‘(finally just you and me / and all this space)’. But the ‘no silence in the flow of breath and arms’ has been hard won from all that went before: a dance of syllable & syntax that seeks a kind of erotic rest after all. I like the way continua continually challenges its reader to step up & out.

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