Tronzo 2009

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Tronzo, William, ed. The Fragment: An Incomplete History. Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute, 2009.

Introduction, William Tronzo

“Fragment presumes fragmentation, an action whose results can never ben entirely foreseen, in contrast to other, more deliberate forms of partitioning for decision. And fragmentation is movement. According to one of our best guesses, the universe began with the colossal motion of an immense act of fragmentation — the Big Bang, a construct of theoretical physics — that nonetheless makes poignant the persistent idea of a return to unity in the arts, religion, and culture. This leads us to see the fragment not simply as the static part of some once whole thing but as itself something in motion. It is my understanding of physics that atoms behave in certain predictable, rational ways, but when they are shattered, their pieces go off in all directions to perform spectacular acts of creation and destruction. It is precisely this volatility, this unpredictability, these reverberations that I see in the fragment and in its effects in history.” (2-4)

“It is the fragment and the fragmentary state that are the enduring and normative conditions; conversely, it is the whole that is ephemeral, and the state of wholeness that is transitory.” (4)

On Fragments, Glenn W. Most

Two societies: one invested entirely in keeping complete a vision of the past, one constantly focused on innovation and future; neither will have a place for the fragment

The desire to collect/study fragments is “one highly sensitive index of a more or less radical cultural discontinuity. Fragments and canon formation are linked by a particularly close relation: the processes by which fragments are first formed and then collected and studied depend upon shifts over time in the boundaries that separate canonical writers from non canonical ones.” (10)

“Between the barren sea of total oblivion and the relative safety of cultural terra firms, the fragmentary author has been washed ashore onto an unstable margin of shifting sands and variable tides, where he must hope that the glittering shards to which he has been reduced will attract the attention not only of nest-building birds and of infantile vandals but also of well-meaning, aesthetically minded beach combers. If he cannot be resuscitated as a whole, maybe he can still hope to be admired as a fragment. Perhaps, after all, he is not so different from the rest of us.” (10)

Words for fragment in greek only ever applied to objects, not text / portions of discourse

Late antiquity and early Middle Ages, prestige attributed to fragments of ancient sculptures which were recycled; also to portions of texts, which were collected — “In both the artistic and the textual domains, we can see everywhere the traces of processes that lead to fragmentation and the juxtaposition and correlation of these fragments, but with very few exceptions (for example among some early Christian scholarS) we do not find procedure for the systematic collection of fragments or the speculative reconstitution of lost wholes.” (11)

[a broad, sketchy history of approach to fragments follows]

realization that there are no more manuscripts to be discovered — “With a shock whose intensity and pathos varied from individual to individual, certain Renaissance scholars began to realize that, in the meantime, the ancient world had died once and for all and was henceforth separated from their own by an unbridgeable historical caesura. It is this historical shock, the anguished realization that antiquity is dead and that the total stock of ancient manuscripts is therefore finite, that lies at the basis of the modern search for ancient fragments and endows the very term fragment with an emotional tone, connoting loss, injury, and deprivation, that is entirely lacking on in such partial synonyms as piece, excerpt, and citation.” (14) — Petrarch first expanded this usage of fragment

Schlegel — perfect fragment is whole unto itself like a hedgehog (16)

fascination of fragments — “Closed, finished texts and objets can sometimes seem to rebuff us. They are already perfect: what can we add to them besides our own misunderstandings? But a text or object upon which time and fortune have unleashed all their destructive fury can present itself to us in the form of a fragment: wounded, incomplete, crying out for our help if it is to speak once more its words that have almost been silenced.” (18)

is the missing whole really what we want?

“The Whole is the UnTrue”: On the Necessity of the Fragment (After Adorno), Ian Balfour

Adorno — reverses Hegel’s idea that the true is the whole to say the whole is the untrue; suggesting that the part “sets itself apart, calling attention to itself as part, in the mode of resistance to the whole. It is not as if the whole simply goes away, but now the exemplary work of art, Adorno implies, cannot entirely sustain the tension between part and whole, whose reconciliation was to be the defining characteristic of art as such. The work fragments.” (84-5)

“Works of art that present totalities in a world that is not itself totalized or able to be totalized are, to that extent, false: in the ‘damaged world’ the fragment is the more truthful form of the work of art, and, indeed, Truer to the enigmatic character of the work of art, period. The fragment is art against art’s sake.” (86)