Centring the Margins: Essays and Reviews, Jeff Bursey, 189 Pages, Zero Books, zero-books.net
As Jeff Bursey contends, we are endlessly taught that, “[l]iterature contains singular imagery, the perfect word lodged in its perfect spot, rounded characters, believable settings, a confident narrative (if not a confident narrator).” The stuffy English Lit canon morphed into a similarly narrow mainstream publishing consensus. As a result, alternative styles of writing, which are for Bursey innovative, are tarred with the warning term, “experimental.”
Bursey’s crusade can be a smidge too present, yet often it is framed in an eye-opening way, such as when he notes that for typical critical writing, “[t]he excitement will be intellectual, but won’t commit someone’s blood and soul to the works, which [William] Vollmann, with Steinbeck in mind, has written from the fibre of his being, as used to be said before the author supposedly disappeared.” Here Bursey reminds us that readers may be rewarded for delving into the unfamiliar. The strength of this collection is that it drives us to seek out neglected voices, even if it means having to read an occasional paragraph twice before we get it. Bursey inspires us to seek out important writing instead of settling for the typical and easy to digest.
If there is a weakness, aside from some unclear sentences, it is that a wide variety of works are looked at through a personal lens informed by an ironically narrow spectrum of writers. For instance, Bursey compares all sorts of people to Henry Miller, Miller representing his literary awakening. Other favoured reference points are Pynchon, the Powys’, Dos Passos – and all sorts of stories are referred to as Oulipian. On the other hand, the wide variety of matter covered made a consistent measuring stick a welcome tool. (Feliks Jezioranski)