Review: Nick Earhart’s Four Places – Jonathan Kelly

Nick Earhart’s Four Places, published by Lillet Press, is ostensibly a ‘comic.’ It is a deceptively simple work. Each comic vignette is comprised of four discrete boxes, or “places” as the title states. We enter into the work unsuspecting. As with all cultural productions, we expect narrative, or at the very least a robust use of symbol and metaphor. Earhart disabuses us of this notion. We come to realize that there can be no narrative herein, because there is no steady subject. Four Places is a work of astounding deterritorialization that pays no heed to narrative, symbol, or metaphor—neither imbibing in them nor casting them off, rather existing beyond the scope of these formulation altogether.

The first vignette is titled “A Car.” In the first place, a car begins to enter into view. Simple enough. To clarify: I’ll use the following numbering sequence for this review: (1) top-left, (2) top-right, (3) bottom-left, (4) bottom-right. The second pane contains the car fully. It is blue. Its shape seems to be in accordance with the platonic ideal of “CAR,” or perhaps how a child might depict it—as two rectangles dangling off the ends of a central isosceles trapezoid, two circles tucked underneath. It is night. The headlights of our perfect car emanate through the darkness. In the third and fourth place, the car disappears. The lower half of each place in this vignette, presumably the road, changes color, from green to pink to yellow to blue—the same blue as our car, as if the road itself becomes a remembrance of the alienated subject.

From such humble beginnings, a car entering and leaving our view, Nick Earhart explodes outward. There is no real linearity present. We are left only with the form of the work itself: these four places. The eighth vignette, titled “Dribble” shows a basketball presumably being dribbled, more rather simply bounced. But everything has been stripped away from the performance. There is no dribbler; there is no floor. In each place, we see the basketball suspended in mid-air, each a point on its very own cartesian plane. When presented with such sparse representations of reality, much in the same way as a Giacometti sculpture, we must call into question our own powers of inference, our own methodologies of interpretation and narrative formation.

This work does not call us to construct narrative from an immanence of fact, nor to imbue any sort of self into this formal mechanism. Even a Barthean sort of interaction where the reader partakes in or assumes the act of artistic creation becomes a nonsensical task. For the work only seeks affirmation. And a work which exists wholly within one half of such a Manichean formula, which ushers us toward simple agreement, toward a “YES,” cannot bear repudiation or modification—is unobjectionable. Narrative, insofar as it requires something outside of itself, something which may expand, broaden, modify, or contradict it in order to either reinforce or negate its validity, cannot begin to germinate in such soil. For instance, in the penultimate vignette, titled “What,” places one through four are each filled with one of the four letters comprising the word, each a different color. Yes, these are the four letters of “what.” We only can affirm this. Are we being called to ask what “what” is? This is a rather large inference. Are we able to disagree with the color pallet? Sure, but this would be a rather petty and childish endeavor. We are compelled into agreement.

It must be noted that there is a degree of wry humor to this work. Vignette 19, “Flipping Houses,” (a rather contentious subject these days—a gross understatement, with BlackRock swiping up housing faster than you can shake a stick at, with the eviction moratorium at an end, with millions of Americans facing homelessness), consists of two houses—similarly idealized in the same manner as the car in Vignette 1—somersaulting. Instead of following the usual pattern of 1-2-3-4 though, the somersault follows 1-2-4-3 (or, clockwise). What is this doing though? Is this poetry? This isn’t only antinarrative, it is antipoetical, or rather anti- what we have come to expect from poetry. It can make one want to pull their hair out. But this is really the beauty of this work. It is poetry. It is the best of poetry. It is the best of art. Metaphor is abolished. Symbol is abolished. Narrative, the bastard child of the two, is abolished. The symbolic order of representation is ostracized from the work in its entirety. The gods come crashing down. And this is so incredibly important, for it is on this symbolic plane—which falls squarely within the realm of consumption—that the many-headed beast of patriarchy, imperialism, capitalism and white supremacy makes its sly half-concessions.

And through such abolitions—by showing us the formal absurdity of these turns of phrase, by reducing all image and all wordplay to the barest possible interpretation—which leave us only in a state of sheer affirmation, we must acknowledge the absurdity of our own complacence to such bad faith concessions made by the oppressor by means of its hitherto cloaked symbolic apparatus. Thus, we are forced to confront material fact presented here as absurdity, forced to call into question the apparent logicity of this very same, apparently omnipresent symbolic apparatus. This is the deterritorialization Four Places engenders. This is the space it creates for us. As such, in its own quirky way, it really is quite revolutionary.