Segmented essays – sometimes called collage essays or disjunctive essays or paratactic essays – depend on space, usually expressed as numbers or rows of asterisks or squiggly lines or white breaks in text, as a fundamental element of design and expression. Knowing what the spaces say is vital for understanding the nonfictionist’s craft and appreciating the possibilities of this contemporary form; it also helps us to better understand the nature of truth in the segmented essay. Like musical compositions, nonfiction need not to be one uninterrupted melody, one movement, but can also be the arrangement of distinct and discrete miniatures, changes of temp, sonority, melody, separated by silences. Think of a triptych like Hieronymus Bosch’s three-part masterpiece, The Garden of Earthly Delights, with its large central section displaying “The World before Noah,” one side panel depicting “The Marriage of Adam and Eve,” the other depicting “Hell.” Like a polyptych painting, nonfiction need not be one self-contained and harmonious picture but can also be an arrangement of separate images, a retable or reredos of scenes and portraits collectively viewed but separated by borders and frames. The spaces in a segmented essay are like the silences between songs on a recording, the use of emptiness in a photographs to highlight or foreground images, the time lapse between two hyperlinks on a website, the time it takes to shift focus from one facet of a multifaceted object to another, the breaks between poems in a sonnet sequence. We learn what we learn, we know what we know, we experience what we live in segments and sections, fragments, moments, movements, periods, disjunctions, and juxtapositions. The inventions and manipulations of character and plot that are the hallmark of the novelist’s creativity are the barriers of the nonfictionist’s psychology; the willingness to settle for the fictionist’s “higher truth through fabrication” negates the...
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