A note on this ‘new approach’ of his. Once upon a time Thomas Stippel used to write like the rest of us. With words, letters, sentences and whatnot. Now, however, he uses images; scraps of colour and ‘various visual detritus’ built up in ‘blocks’, offering a ‘critical reflection’ on the work in hand. He emphasises the word ‘critical’: for those who think his reviews are simply ‘visual echoes’ he has nothing but scorn. ‘It’s sharper than an echo,’ he says: ‘It’s the first blast of a trumpet, the first cockcrow of the day’. When I talk about ‘capturing a mood’ he gets even more frustrated. His German brow wrinkles with vehemance. The words ‘mood’ and ‘aura’ are, it turns out, pet-hates. His word is ‘essence’. His essays can be read from top to bottom, but not necessarily from ‘right to left’. It depends on the line, apparently – or on the shape of the ‘block’. In fact, it seems to depend on a lot of things.
Thus spake Heidi Kohlenberg a few years ago in her introduction to Thomas Stippel’s review of Donna Devoni’s novel Hotwiring Honolulu. Now the dust has settled on Stippel’s strange little offering (and strange it certainly was) what more can I add?
For a start, it seems clear to me that Stippel’s review is not ‘sharper than an echo’. Nor is their anything ‘essential’ about it. I am all for shifting the boundaries of critical discourse, but this doesn’t even count as a noble failure. An image may say more than a thousand words, but the images Stippel chooses are so small, and so tightly packed together, that they say almost nothing. ‘Detritus’ is the word, indeed. Stippel’s essay is a bad design for a carpet. I can hardly read anything into it, let alone a response to Donna Devoni’s prose.
All of which is a pity, for I’m not against visual essays per se. I simply don’t think that Thomas Stippel knows how to write them.
The question is, who does?