Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Paper Chains

I've been feeling isolated. Have a gander at Matthew Battles's article, How Writers Interact with the World.

Early-modern European authors had their commonplace books: journals they filled with excerpts from classical and modern works, snippets of journalism and reflections gleaned from daily life. More than a mere journal, the commonplace book can be thought of as a paper-based interface for the social world of letters, in which Enlightenment-era writers continuously added, combined and swapped out snippets of found text gleaned from such new media as newspapers, broadsides and learned journals.
Meta moment: this is essentially what the "Good Hunting" posts are, though I have a lot of material to which I want to respond in a longer format, like this.

Later writers embraced such practices. Ralph Waldo Emerson kept journals assiduously; throughout his life they piled up, volume upon volume, constituting eventually a kind of search engine through which he could retrieve his vagrant thoughts and half-recollected ideas. Emerson’s practice of keeping journals combined the early-modern commonplace book with fragments of his own nascent essays, verse and drafts of letters. Emerson and his correspondents comprised a social network to be sure — and the degree of interoperability between letters, journals and finished, printed works was very high. The young Emerson sometimes saddled his diary book with the title “The Wide World” — a glimpse of his sententiousness, but also a premonition of the sage who would exhort the American scholar to “run eagerly into [the] resounding tumult” of the world, which furnishes “the raw material out of which the intellect moulds her splendid products.… The manufacture goes forward at all hours.”
I like the idea of sending paper letters to people, though I embrace the efficiency of das Interwebz. The more important inspiration from this paragraph is the message of collaboration: make an attempt at clarifying your thoughts on your own, refine them, show them to your closest friends, refine them some more, and then send your words out into the world.

The literary promise of this mundane manufactory was evident to Virginia Woolf as well. Throughout her fiction she attacked the problem of the world’s persistent demand upon our attention, which overcomes even the security and seclusion of a room of one’s own. Woolf asks us to imagine that room: one “like many thousands, with a window looking across people’s hats and vans and motor-cars to other windows” — only to plunge us immediately into the streetscape below, into the city of clattering coal-holes and careening cabs, whose citizens are “shot backwards and forwards on this plain foundation to make some pattern.” The room of one’s own Woolf calls for is no citadel but a kind of research vessel — not an abbey but an instrument, not a fortress, but a connection.
Soon (as soon as it gets returned to the library) I will read Woolf's essay "A Room of One's Own". It may be a preemptive move on my part to write this; however: what I think a room of one's own means is a place that is entirely yours, that you control and arrange to suit yourself, and from which you can launch yourself into the external world. If you bring people into your room it is solely on your terms.

The room, in other words, is the physical manifestation of your mind. (Which reminds me that I need to do a real mind map soon.)

Of course, Woolf hardly remained in seclusion. The Bloomsbury scene was famously hectic and vital, generating dense clouds of correspondence, terrible feuds and heady collaborations. With her husband, Leonard, Virginia started a press to publish not only their work but that of literary friends and colleagues — a premonition of Kickstarters to come.

Not unlike those earlier literary networks, the Internet now furnishes vivid and shifting interfaces for writerly composition, collection and competition.
Right now with one of my closest friends (let's call her J for now) I'm working on a Protagonist Club story. If she agrees I'll tell you all about it on Friday. For now, without going into details, we're collaborating over google docs and agree on major things before moving forward; however we each have our own "character" (though I'm consciously trying to make my girl, Justine, not exactly like me) over whose details we have final say. It's a splendid arrangement and I am enjoying it immensely.

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