by David Clippinger
Keith Waldrop's The Silhouette of the Bridge is a sustained meditation upon the relationship of knowledge, experience, memory, and spirituality, and especially how that relationship is sometimes reconciled and sometimes troubled by the act of writing. As Waldrop writes,
We capture what we can by rendering it in words, but then, whether we speak or write or think, it remains words, never restored, never un- or re-translated except into other words. A one-way code unbroken.
In essence Waldrop reformulates Susan Howe's question posed in "Thorow," "And what is left when spirits have fled from holy places?" For Waldrop, though, the issue is "what is left when memory has fled from familiar places?" Memory is the anchor in an otherwise fluid universe, and when it slips or is shown to be faulty, the tenuous webbing of one's world is slowly unravelled. Waldrop brings into relief the "memory palace in / decay but // before the final / darkening" through juxtaposing verse and prose; the result is a texture of contingent parts that unfold through the shifting of text and context, while the book as a whole achieves momentum through the constant reconsideration of the nature of memory.
The Silhouette of the Bridge echoes aspects of Waldrop's 1993 novel, Light While There is Light, where he explores the relationship between familial history, memory, and identity. But whereas Light proposes a multi-layered image of Waldrop's subjectivity, Silhouette yields a more introspective and metaphysical exploration of the self. The mode of investigation and writing of Silhouette is more fluid and philosophical than that of Light, resembling the writings of Simone Weil and Saint Augustine (both of whom Waldrop mentions); subsequently, the book is rigorous, intelligent, and relentless in its ruminations upon spirituality, experience, and meaning. Most of all, it captures the urgency that drives most spiritual writing—the desire to come to terms with consciousness and time, the finite and infinite. The task Waldrop has established for himself in this book is immense, but, as The Silhouette of the Bridge demonstrates, it is one that he is more than capable of tackling.
Rain Taxi Print Edition, Vol. 2 No. 3, Fall (#7) | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 1997