Reflections On Richard McGuire’s “Here”

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“I had this motto that I was going to make the big things small and the small things big.”
– Richard McGuire (quoted in The New Yorker, November 17, 2014).

Richard McGuire’s Here is a graphic novel that presents a poetic mediation on place and time. The book focuses on a single room in a house from the perspectives of different past, present, and future time periods. The room is a living room, and we see it as it looks and is inhabited circa 1959, 1983, 2015, 1774, and also on other dates, hundreds or thousands of years further back or forward. As the time periods change, we see fashions, decor, and social conventions shift. But we also see how similar humans are over time. The specifics of the place may change, but an underlying energy of the people in it persists.

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One of McGuire’s visual narrative techniques–besides inserting the date on the corner of every page–is to divide the page into smaller windows of alternate time frames. In this way, we see the room as it looks in 1971, but at the same time see a corner of it as it is in say, 1791. This allows McGuire to show how different times and places interpenetrate one another, acting as mutual portals for sharing meaning and resonance across the ages.

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Here gets you thinking about how things happen and are uttered repeatedly but in different forms over time. Here’s another example from the book that juxtaposes the deep past with the more recent century:

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Naturally then, the book’s structure had me thinking about its musical resonances. One of McGuire’s techniques for shaping the book’s text (sporadic and brief as it is) is to show how bits of dialogue (“So what did you say?” “Did you hear that?”) echo and call and respond with one another through different eras. These utterances suggest how specific sounds can remain the same over time, yet have different local meanings.

This is common in music: a riff or a phrase or a composed gesture or a rhythm can travel through time and space, moving from the past to the present, from somewhere there (West Africa, say) to somewhere here (the United States, say)—like a meme. Or sometimes people say very similar musical things in vastly different contexts. And then there is the idea of musical quotation, and the fact of digital sampling. In fact, the musical world as we can experience it today thanks to so many musics streaming at our fingertips is deeply interpenetrated. Like those little windows in McGuire’s Here, we hear musical pasts in our present, and also endless lateral connections–from the East, West, and all points in between. So I guess what I’m saying is that this thought-provoking graphic novel had me thinking about a musical history (in the form of a graphic novel?) that would trace just a few small golden nuggets of sound along their travels to show how deeply music–itself an evanescent kind of space and place–connects us all.

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