On an Animation of a Sentence by Nathan Englander

On an Animation of a Sentence by Nathan Englander

It seems to me there are several different things going on
in Drew Christie‘s animation of a sentence from the Nathan Englander story “The Reader.”
The sentence itself runs as follows:

And with all these
headlights floating divided in his rearview mirror, Author can never tell which
belong to his reader, which pair is his beacon, a North Star, split, cast back,
guiding him on.

Your first question might be, if you haven’t seen one of
these brilliant animations literary magazine Electric Literature has been posting for years now, where’s the rest of the story? What are we to do with a single sentence?

That is the question the editors want you to ask: in
isolating these sentences in this way, they want to raise the estimation of the
individual sentence, to remind us of its part in making a story, or even a
novel. They have taken sentences from authors ranging from Jim Shepard to Amy
Hempel to Mary Gaitskill to A.M. Homes, paired them with animators, and
produced a remarkable series of small films.

The film built around this sentence is fairly simple on its
surface, a study in white lines against a black background, all vibrating
slightly, partly an effect of the medium, partly an effect of the sentence
itself (I’d like to think, though I’m probably wrong). A polar bear stands on top of a rising and descending moon-like (or maybe Earth-like) orb,
suggesting… what? The mythic importance of the polar bear for certain cultures? The isolation we all
sometimes feel, as if the world were a desert island and we were all standing
on it, waiting for a ship? The sense that we are all, somehow, crushed, that we
think we are free but we are actually stick beneath the paw of some enormous
unseen beast?

The rest of the small film, just under two minutes long, does
little to discourage or answer these sorts of questions, and in fact it expands
on them. As we move onto the open road, with a seldom-seen driver, all kinds of other concerns begin to
crowd in: what is the driver’s destination, or better put, what is the writer’s
destination? Should he be concerned that he is being followed—or, conversely,
should he be happy that he’s being followed, should he consider it part of the
natural way of things? Even the handmade scrawl of the sentence suggests a kind
of desperation, or nakedness—which, interestingly, contrasts with the sentence
itself, loaded with auspiciousness, with the ambiguity of the idea of a Reader,
or a Beacon, or an Author, or the mysteriousness of a light that directs
someone from behind. What the filmmaker has taken his cue from is the motion of
the sentence: the way it starts with a pair of long, establishing phrases and
then slowly breaks apart into smaller phrases which carry more symbolic weight
as the sentence progresses.

So: watch it again.

Max Winter is the Managing Editor of Press Play.

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