#Vignette – Maths, OR: 1+1 is not always 2


A short while back, I decided I was going to experiment with what I’d like to call “vignettes”. These are intended to be micro-stories – so short that they can be tweeted. A title and a few short words encapsulate the essence of a narrative. The realisation then struck me that I could revisit snippets of poems and scraps of thoughts that I have scribbled down over the years and perhaps mould them into micro-stories.

One mini-poem I wrote a long time ago immediately presented itself as a candidate, because I had spent quite some time whittling away at it to get the intended effect. With my micro-story frame, all it now needed was a title that picked up the key to its meaning and the strategy that reflected it.

Maths, OR: 1+1 is not always 2
I am. You are, too. But what are we?

Not much to look at to begin with, you might think. But let’s delve more deeply. The notion of numbers and the connection between them is introduced by the overt mention of “Maths”. This is then immediately picked up by the mathematical equation of 1+1. The answer, of course, is normally unquestionably 2, but this expected answer is contradicted. We begin to wonder what might otherwise be meant by this. The maths then becomes a metaphor, an allusion to the notion of two individuals coming together as a couple. However, here this is disappointed. A puzzle is presented, an expectation aroused. Thus, the title in juxtaposition with the text points up the narrative conflict – it seems that something is preventing a relationship from achieving fulfilment.

The original mini-poem took the following form:

I am
You are too
But what are we

I think the numbers notion becomes more obvious in this format. Firstly, in the number of syllables per line – 2, 3 and 4. Then, if you look at the words in the lines, you will notice the first word “I” looks like a “1” and also represents a single person, the speaker. Next, you will observe that the last word of the second line is “too”, a homophone of “two”, which in its meaning links the speaker with the addressee, as two. And finally, though more obscurely, the last word of the third line is “we”, which is not only the focus of the speaker’s concern, but also rhymes with “three”, the third element in the series, which links up “I” and “too” (you and me) to “we”. The poem has a counting character, and multiple elements are in series. Read aloud, this counting connection is more recognisable.

Let’s look even more closely at the words themselves. In the first line, the first word consists of one letter; the second, of two. All the words in the second line consist of three letters. Up to this point, all of the words have fairly equal stress (spondaic) and the sentences are statements, so the conclusion seems obvious. However, then there is a shift in rhythm to iambic, and the question is posed – the conflict now becomes clear, because the future is not. The unstressed first syllable still has only three letters, but the question is posed in “what”, which has four. The final two words reduce again – three, two, and what comes next, we do not know, but we fear it may be one.

Another layer of meaning presents itself in the absence of overt reference to what the nature of the “being” is. I am what? And the addressee shares this state of being. Both of them recognise this. Is it love that is meant? A love that cannot be fulfilled? Or is the end of love the theme, a love that has died? Or is some other emotion or fact being alluded to?

In this vignette, the “maths” of a relationship is exposed, but the equation doesn’t seem to work. The words and the form reinforce the notion to culminate in the question of the couple’s future, revealing the speaker’s despair. And all of this in the space of a tweet.

This, at least, is what I aimed for…

© Cate Kimberley and Word and Affect, 2012

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3 thoughts on “#Vignette – Maths, OR: 1+1 is not always 2

  1. That’s a big challenge, a meaningful text with so little. Difficult.

    I fear the topic of the math of a relationship is a bit worn out. I know this play in a number of variations already, sometimes its 1+1=2, sometimes 1+1=6 (works better in German) or 1+1=3. The construction of your original little poem is fine, if a tad bit too constructed. Which is probably why you felt the need to change it. For my taste, the new title “Maths, OR:” is just okay, but the “1+1 is not always 2” is to explanatory, too obvious. There is no secret any more. In the original version, it was up to the reader to discover that the second line could be read as “You are two”. Which was a more interesting choice.
    The described situation, the question should be known to most of us. Is there a new revelation, a new aspect shown?
    All in all, risking that you’ll hate me for this: I find this little piece pretty trivial.
    And as an experienced forum and blog user I’d like to add: this is just my personal opinion, and I am a moron as everbody knows, so don’t feel to bad about it ;o)

    tervehdys rakkaudella
    Henkki

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  2. When I think of it more and let the piece resonate a little longer I come to the conclusion it is mainly the title I don’t like. It explains and promises, takes away some of the fun of revealing all or just some of the aspects you described. I find titles, especially for smaller pieces, extraordinary difficult. So often they get in the way. I see that with fotos as well: the title tells me what I am supposed to see, it gets between me and the work. Sometimes the titles are pretentious and pompous, sometimes they give away too much, spoil the fun, sometimes they just simply don’t match the work. That is the case for me here. The “Maths” has enormous weight and promises complicated things. The “OR” is capitalised, violent. Then we have an expanation of what is to come. The whole thing seems much bigger than the poem, which itself is actually, simple as it might seem at first glance, quite nice and well done. Let us readers explore more, find out ourselves, trust us – guess we’d enjoy it more.

    Cheers
    Henkki

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    1. Well, I think the best way to assess it is to remove the title and see whether it still says any of what I wanted it to say, or rather, whether the reader would be likely to discover any of that. For me it is far less effective without it, so even after considering what you have said I am still satisfied with it. 🙂

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