Recovered Writing: Falling Apart

Reminded by Mary Ann Caws a year and some months later

Jojo Karlin

Modernist Singularities

Mary Ann Caws

October 2014

Falling Apart

What makes something or someone fall apart? What coheres matter or, more to the matter, mind?


I am curious to answer these questions as I sit in my parents’ house in Massachusetts. It is my childhood home, the home in which mother grew up, a post-and-beam structure original fashioned as a hunting lodge in 1720, that my grandparents bought in 1952, that had no working toilet but an outhouse at the time, that my grandmother died in, and that my grandfather, a cardiologist, nearly singlehandedly carpentered/plumbed/electrified until his death in 2006. In spite of, or because of, decades of repair and patchwork renovation, the house is falling apart. Only a few years after my parents finished a substantial renovation, the top of the house is splitting. It evidently needs some contraption to bind the beams and keep the house from cleaving at its seams. The inexorable progress of this falling apart seems to be a standard of home-ownership that proceeds from relentless gravity, tenuous engineering. It is a slow-moving process. What seems unnaturally natural: we can dwell in the midst of falling apart.


Reading Mansfield and Lawrence, I see what is constructed — a marriage, a happiness, an island — falling apart. Yet what hold together most strongly for me are precisely these moments of dissolution. In identifying these disintegrations, the writers find something enduring in the falling apart. In The man Who Loved Islands, Lawrence writes:

It was only the soft evanescence of gossamer-y things which now seemed to him permanent. The very mist of eternity was in them. Whereas stone buildings, cathedrals for example, seemed to him to howl with temporary resistance, knowing they must fall at last; the tension of their long endurance seemed to howl forth from them all the time. (Ch 2)

What evaporates seems permanent. What lasts is not what holds together, but its ruins, what holds up. Where things fall apart reveals points of greatest tension.


I remember learning of Gibbs free energy in high school chemistry. In thermodynamics, the change in Gibbs free energy, or available energy, decreases as a system reaches equilibrium. I marveled at the quantification of the energetic tendency towards chaos. Writing seems to be an irreversible process, one of constructing bonds to contain chaos. But perhaps what writing actually achieves is drawing attention to the points where things cannot hold.