Black Aperture differs significantly from other classic and contemporary elegies in that it pointedly does not make much of an effort to express the universal human experience of grief, but rather it insists on the strange and provocative aspects of the circumstances of Matt’s brother’s death. Its eschewal of the universal and insistence on the specific actually makes it more affecting for the reader and better able to achieve surprising empathy.
At its simplest, an elegy is a lamentation for one who is dead. Traditionally, an elegy traces the emotional arc of an expression of sorrow followed by praise and commemoration of the life and work of the deceased, eventually winding up with a sense of solace. At its simplest, Black Aperture is an elegy. But it is not simple and it is not traditional, and its complexity and its breaking of tradition speak to why it works so well. It defies the genre’s conventions and refuses relief—there are grace notes of peace, but there are no easy answers.
If elegies such as Smith’s seem to say that everyone will have the same death, basically, Matt’s seem to say that some people’s deaths are just different and that his brother’s death is not one that he wants—that it is unique in comparison to everyone else’s. It is presented as singular. “There is a strange anger toward the person who’s committed suicide that might not be present when someone similarly dies unexpectedly,” he said in our email interview. “Certainly there is anger and disbelief when someone tragically dies, but with suicide it’s directed at the person who has died. This anger, however, is tempered with a feeling of remorse or intense sorrow for the person who took his or her own life because no longer are they the person you knew. […] When someone dies of suicide there is a reluctance to talk about them, or remember them, because they are no longer who you thought they were, so I think there tends to be an immense silence that surrounds a suicide.
Black Aperture succeeds by accessing its great personal subject through the concrete textures of a day-to-day life rendered suddenly surreal; it locates a vibrant middle ground between, as Matt emailed me, “the dark recesses of your grief and the bright world of life, the world that forces you to live and eat and do stupid, mundane everyday things,”