Hello Guardian webwatch readers, the How We Work thing is here, about 70 of them. Do send us more, ta.
The word "map" is perhaps of Punic (Phoenician) origin, via Latin and Middle English, from the table cloths that maps were first drawn on.
Apparently the Phoenician language (or Punic, the derivative dialect spoken in Carthage) doesn't give modern English many words, but another of them is bible, from Bublos, Byblos, the Phoenician city which exported papyrus to Greek cities, via: Middle English, from Old French, from Late Latin biblia, from Greek, pl. of biblion, book.
Great book cover on Peter Gould and Rodney White's Mental Maps (Pelican 1974) by geographer Gerald Fremlin, then of the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources, Ottawa. Mental Maps is perhaps a bookend to Lynch's Image of the City. (Fremlin is married to author Alice Munro.)
Elsewhere in anthropocartography, more mental mapping...
... and some corporeal mapping:
The Phoenicians [...] assigned names to locations based on the names of parts of the human body. The body was "mapped" to the area so that simply knowing the Phoenician name for the area enabled one to know approximately where it was in relation to other areas (body parts) of the same map. In English, one would call this "the lay of the land", that is, how the body is configured on the ground. [says Izzy Cohen, via Angermann2's geo-anatomy].
- all these "via"s, like directions.
DeLillo works in two sessions at a typewriter, decreasingly keeps the evidence of the work (in the form of typed drafts), and focuses, atomically on sentence and paragraph construction:
Writing is a concentrated form of thinking. I don't know what I think about certain subjects, even today, until I sit down and try to write about them.
I work in the morning at a manual typewriter. I do about four hours and then go running. This helps me shake off one world and enter another. Trees, birds, drizzle--it's a nice kind of interlude. Then I work again, later afternoon, for two or three hours.
Q: Do your typed drafts just pile up and sit around?
That's right. I want those pages nearby because there's always a chance I'll have to refer to something that's scrawled at the bottom of a sheet of paper somewhere. Discarded pages mark the physical dimensions of a writer's labor--you know, how many shots it took to get a certain paragraph right. Or the awesome accumulation, the gross tonnage, of first draft pages. The first draft of Libra sits in ten manuscript boxes. I like knowing it's in the house. I feel connected to it. It's the complete book, the full experience containable on paper. I find I'm more ready to discard pages than I used to be. I used to look for things to keep. I used to find ways to save a paragraph of sentence, maybe by relocating it. Now I look for ways to discard things. If I discard a sentence I like, it's almost as satisfying as keeping a sentence I like. I don't think I've become ruthless or perverse--just a bit more willing to believe that nature will restore itself. The instinct to discard is finally a kind of faith. It tells me there's a better way to do this page even though the evidence is not accessible at the present time.
Q: How do you begin? What are the raw materials of a story?
I think the scene comes first, an idea of a character in a place. It's visual, it's Technicolor--something I see in a vague way. Then sentence by sentence into the breach. No outlines--maybe a short list of items, chronological, that may represent the next twenty pages. But the basic work is built around the sentence. This is what I mean when I call myself a writer. I construct sentences. There's a rhythm I hear that drives me through a sentence. And the words typed on the white page have a sculptural quality. They form odd correspondences. They match up not just through meaning but through sound and look. The rhythm of a sentence will accommodate a certain number of syllables. One syllable too many, I look for another word. There's always another word that means nearly the same thing, and if it doesn't then I'll consider altering the meaning of a sentence to keep the rhythm, the syllable beat. I'm completely willing to let language press meaning upon me. Watching the way in which words match up, keeping the balance in a sentence--these are sensuous pleasures. I might want very and only in the same sentence, spaced in a particular way, exactly so far apart. I might want rapture matched with danger--I like to match word endings. I type rather than write longhand because I like the way words and letters look when they come off the hammers onto the page--finished, printed, beautifully formed.
Q: Do you care about paragraphs?
When I was working on The Names I devised a new method--new to me, anyway. When I finished a paragraph, even a three-line paragraph, I automatically went to a fresh page to start the new paragraph. No crowded pages. This enabled me to see a given set of sentences more clearly. It made rewriting easier and more effective. The white space on the page helped me concentrate more deeply on what I'd written.
This one-paragraph-per-page method is why he had only five sheets left of copy paper from an old advertising job when he contributed one to Jonathan Safran Foer's collection of blank paper. He wrote:
A hundred years ago I used yellow paper every day in my job writing advertising copy, and when I quit the job to become a grown-up first and then a writer, I took (I guess) a fairly large quantity of this copy paper with me. The first draft of my first novel was typed on this paper, and through the years I have used it again, sparingly and then more sparingly, and now there are only five sheets left.
Back in those days I was the Kid, and the friends I made on the job are either older than I am or dead (two days ago I wrote and delivered a eulogy for one of them) and so this yellow paper carries a certain weight of friendship and memory. That's why I thought I'd entrust a sheet to your collection.
Foer's collection of blank sheets of writing paper started by accident: a friend was sorting Isaac Bashevis Singer's belonging for a university archive, and gave the uppermost sheet of Singer's stack of unused typing paper to Foer. The sheet became a mystic writing pad for Foer, a mirror for writing, and the collection followed.
But I was wrong about the empty page. Or I was wrong about myself. A relationship developed. I found myself thinking about the piece of paper, being moved by it, taking it out of its envelope several times a day, wanting to see it. I had the page framed and put it on my living room wall. Many of the breaks I took from looking at my own empty paper were spent looking at Singer's.
Looking at what? There were too many things to look at. There were the phantom words that Singer hadn't actually written and would never write, the arrangements of ink that would have turned the most common of all objects--the empty page--into the most valuable: a great work of art. The blank sheet of paper was at once empty and infinite. [...]
And it was also a mirror. As a young writer--I was then contemplating how to move forward after my first effort--I felt so enthusiastically and agonizingly aware of the blank pages in front of me. How could I fill them? Did I even want to fill them? Was I becoming a writer because I wanted to become a writer or because I was becoming a writer? I stared into the empty pages day after day, looking, like Narcissus, for myself.
I decided to expand my collection. Singer's paper was not enough, just as Singer's books would not be enough in a library, even if they were your favorites. I wanted to see how other pieces of paper would speak to Singer's and to one another, how the physical differences among them would echo the writers. I wanted to see if the accumulation of emptiness would be greater than the sum of its parts. So I began writing letters to authors--all of whom I admired, only one or two of whom I had ever corresponded with--asking for the next sheet of paper that he or she would have written on.
(from 'Emptiness' in Playboy Jan 2004. Update, 2008: the original link above points to what is now, perhaps appropriately, a blank page, and the only other one I can find with the full text is here.)
More how we work.
Canin copied John Cheever paragraphs out to learn what made the man (and his writing tick), and discovered a natural progression from quotitian detail to grand epiphany:
In my creative writing class I decided that I would write like John Cheever, that I would seek those elongated phrases, those elided leaps into the world of ardor and transcendence and unearthed human longing that shone in his stories like gems beneath a stream. How far superior this raw emotion seemed to me. How much more profound and complex a truth.
In Cheever I found rejuvenation, found his unbridled emotion electrifying. I began typing out some of Cheever’s great paragraphs. [...]
I suppose this was as important an exercise as I have ever performed.
I discovered two things: first, that Cheever’s great, epiphanic leaps were almost invariably preceded (and followed, it turned out) by paragraphs that accumulated small, accurate detail. Initially, this seemed like a profoundly important discovery to me. [...]
But this alone did not make what I’d written much better, and it was here that I made my second, although admittedly in Cheever’s case, unproved discovery: that the progression from detail to epiphany is not a technique used merely for its effect on the reader, but that this method is in fact how a writer discovers his own material.
This changed my writing forever. To put it another way: I had chanced upon the discovery that for the writer it is not moral pondering or grand emotion that are the entrance to a story, but detail and small event. The next story I wrote I started not with the feeling of grandeur that had been my inspiration before, but with a narrowed concentration.
More how we work.
(This being a tentative and uncertain exagmination in the form of some work in progress.)
Matt Ward is annoyed with GPS drawings, and is asking good questions:
"However, I now feel that there is a move to elevate these simple marks to a level of 'art'. My question to Jen was: what do they mean? Are they Art? If so, what do they communicate or do they only communicate something to the person who made the drawing?
A discussion later that day with Jen, we realised that the drawings can't work in isolation. If unsupported by a narrative of who did the movement, and where they did it, they loose meaning."
As he asked this, no doubt Matt had already remembered Duchamp ("Can works be made which are not 'of art'?", from the White Box Notes) - perhaps this is why he doesn't really answer the Are they art? question.
Which kind of GPS drawing is he thinking of? Does it matter what the GPS trace looks like? (or: does intentionality matter in this?) - it is interesting how many GPS drawings are already aspiring artwards, the movement in the real-world movement deliberately placed very much in the service of depiction. (Is their artfulness less "honest" than those that are "spatial squiggles" without aspiration beyond remaining visual records produced as the output of bodies moving?)
On their own, those movements are pressed down, dried out, flattened into randomesque marks. Not much to go on, to get hold of, or do with. Matt immediately turns (left at the sign, then past the lights etc) to Deleuze and Guattari to get directions:
Make maps, not tracings. The map does not reproduce an unconscious closed on itself; it constructs it.
The map is open, connectable in all its dimensions, and capable of being dismantled; it is reversible, and susceptible to constant modification. It can be torn, reversed, adapted to montages of every kind, taken in hand by an individual, a group or a social formation. It can be drawn on a wall, conceived of as a work of art, constructed as a political action or as a mediation.
Contrary to a tracing, which always returns to the "same", a map has multiple entrances.
source: Deleuze & Guattari (1983) On the Line
... and asks "what 'sameness' do GPS drawings return to?". Those plateaux of context and meaning (of presence) are flattened into mere linework. Paul Klee's line, taken for a walk. Doodles. Scribble. Confessional aside: for us, there remains a considerable opacity to D&G.
Which is the problem with so much process-centred art. The method might be interesting, but without it, the flattened trace isn't necessarily. Process-art is often neutral at best, and often dessicated/inert. Dessicated to the point in indifference - important because it seems to be the wrong kind of indifference. (Particularly susceptible where the art product is a direct record of the process? The map drawings of Jason Wallis-Johnson, say, being less interesting than his abstract carbon drawings), or... these lines, mere tracing, non-scientific seismologic records from a train with quite feeble cylinders, the graphing of a shaky method (Klee's line taken for a walk, but this time "expressing the throbbing jerk of the minute hand on electric clocks" (this is Duchamp again, Green Box Notes).
But perhaps it's no bad thing to decouple the representation from its performance, to lose the meaning. When they're "no longer about the movement of the people they traced" [Anne Galloway, in the comments], they are freed to go in new directions. Loose meaning. Those randomesque marks seen in the manner of automatic writing, say. It's what allows you to start again, building out with Alexander Cozens' blots. Traversed by swift GPS nudes at high speed. Tracings, outlines, figments, apparitions (ghostmarks slipping?). Botticelli's sponge, thrown at a wall. Returning to the seim anew.
And if those traces of the process, that flat automobiline raw material, are grafted to one another, composited into drawings, do they start to become something else? A timid-powered blossoming into representations? Into maps? Back into landscape? Or art?
Why collage the traces? An attempt to cut the images free of the need to explain the supporting process. So that people can just look if they want without forcing the explanation - which itself tends to constrain the field of response. Though without completely relegating the method (oh, the logic of the supplement, having/eating the cake). Aesthetics as well as the familiar logico-conceptualism, strict process being somewhat uninteresting. (What do you think?) To write the authorial hand back into the scene - yes, even though it has always been there - in the decision, the hand masquerading as "neutral"-tool, and so on. Beginning to blossom.
Thanks Matt. More to come.
Sources. And a pile of things still to be charted: