Centred around ‘inquiry-based learning’, the idea (behind Denmark’s LEGO® school) is that children are more motivated when they generate their own questions. As one prospective parent of the new school put it: ‘In the UK you’re taught how to pass exams. In Scandinavia you’re taught how to think.’
Me, I went to the LEGO® school of hard blocks.
“They failed to come up with anything that remotely resembled a word”
From a 2002 BBC News item about researchers at the University of Plymouth testing the ‘infinite monkey’ theorem by making available a computer terminal to six monkeys – Elmo, Gum, Heather, Holly, Mistletoe and Rowan – from Paignton Zoo in Devon.
After a month, the Sulawesi crested macaques had only succeeded in partially destroying the machine, using it as a lavatory, and mostly typing the letter ‘s’.
“Listening closely to our own voice, modulating it into more tuneful harmonies”
Writers, like all artists, are Platonists. We have an inkling of something perfect and ideal, which haunts our imaginings and prompts every stroke of the pen or keyboard. We are aware that with a great effort of attentiveness, formulating and reformulating, listening closely to our own voice, modulating it into more tuneful harmonies, we might do something not just good, but perfect. And occasionally in phrase or sentence or paragraph we do just that. But I know of no writer who is not, finally, just that little bit disappointed with the final product.
Rick Gekoski, on trying to bring a concentrated light-heartedness to the act of composition.
“(Will Self’s) Umbrella did not convince me that the dominance of conventional narrative is evidence of cowardice or feeble-mindedness in readers or writers”
Umbrella is undeniably difficult reading, although I found it less and less taxing as I went, a phenomenon that had something to do with the book teaching me how to read it, but probably more to do with a slight easing of Self’s stylistic zealotry somewhere around page fifty. I had the sense that, despite himself, Self became invested in conveying a story. Scenes became longer; characters had decipherable conversations; events caused other events. Any sentence might end by teleporting you from 1971 to 1918, but once you got your bearings, the plot picked up more or less where it left off the last time you’d been in that particular era.
There’s a slightly defensive tone to Maggie Shipstead’s review of Will Self’s modernist novel Umbrella, but it’s nevertheless interesting to note the way in which Self lets narrative intrude on his experimental opus. The sequences I enjoyed and admired the most were invariably those in which characters engaged in recognisable action and dialogue with each other; turning points in ‘the story’, rendered more or less as conventional ‘scenes’, but composed in the (mostly) uncompromising style that this novel demanded Self invent for it.
“The finest teen writing should fill the adult reader with a sense of loss and longing”
Some teens are tremendously smart, with searing curiosity and vocabularies that exceed their horizons, others not so much. Hence we don’t write for teens, so much as for a subset of teens. Most often, this subset closely reflects the teens we ourselves once were.
Language is not only the medium through which existence is transacted, it constitutes our central experiences of social and moral content, of such concepts as freedom and truth, and, most importantly, of individuality and the self; it is also a system of lies, evasions, propaganda, misrepresentation and conformity. Very often a desire to write is a desire to live more honestly through language; the student feels the need to assert a ‘true’ self through the language system, perhaps for the reason that this same system, so intrinsic to every social and personal network, has given rise to a ‘false’ self.
A piece of music or a work of art might echo to the sense of a ‘true’ self, but it is often through language that an adult seeks self-activation, origination, for the reason that language is the medium, the brokering mechanism, of self. The notion of ‘finding your voice’, simplistic as it may sound, is a therapeutic necessity, and for many people a matter of real urgency. It is also – or ought to be – a social goal. If the expansion of creative writing courses signifies anything, it isn’t the cynicism of universities or the self-deception of would-be students: it means, simply, that our manner of life is dishonest, that it offers too few opportunities for self-expression, and that, for some people, there is too great a disjuncture between how things seem and how they actually feel.
A writer may be someone who has never lost their voice, or has always had it; for a number of reasons, they have withheld themselves from immersion in the social contract.
“I’ve come to think that writing is more surprise than certainty”
(W)riting is not just about writing, it’s also (and maybe mainly) about the space in between the writing, when nothing seems to be happening, or random stuff is having an incoherent party inside your head. Almost always, you do eventually start to write, and it seems that you’ve been considering after all. It’s not as comfy as writing a thousand words in half an hour, but it seems to work OK, so long as you think of it as part of a process of writing rather than writer’s block.
“What the internet portends is not the end of the paper container of the book, but rather the way paper organized our assumptions about writing altogether”
I have several reasons for thinking that the current round of destruction is clearing the decks for something better, but the main one is that historically, media that increase the amount of arguing people do has been a long-term positive for society, even at the cost of short-term destruction of familiar patterns, and the disorientation of the people comfortable with those patterns. I think we’ll get extended narrative online — I just doubt the format of most of those narratives will look enough like a book to merit the name.
Each generation decides anew what it is about a thing — a book, a pamphlet, a photograph album — that is most significant and makes decisions about its fate accordingly.
Publisher and editor of pinknantucket press, Alice Cannon, in her editorial for the inaugural edition of Materiality — a themed journal that includes fiction, essay, images and poetry, focusing on the physical and material. The highly-anticipated first edition contains, in Alice’s own words, (m)any things, by excellent people. I’m hardly likely to argue, given that one of those things is by me. That’s right — I’m officially (or at least materially) excellent!
There are indeed many excellent people contributing to this most excellent venture. I’m particularly looking forward to reading Carolyn Fraser’s essay on nineteenth-century competitive typesetting.
Okay, and the two pieces about reading on the dunny.
“You can’t escape your destiny, which is to fall, helplessly”
Hard science: What Christopher Bidmead wanted to reintroduce to Doctor Who. Judging from the script to Logopolis, hard science consists of millions of chanting monks in a city made to look like a brain, chanting block transfer mathematics codes in order to counteract entropy, while the ghost of someone’s future self tells him the future in order to cause it.
From Andrew Hickey’s excellent lexicon for the 1981 Doctor Who serial ‘Logopolis’, in which Tom Baker’s Doctor (cheekily designated here as the twelfth incarnation) regenerates after a fatal fall from a radio telescope. (Or, as Hickey puts it in his entry on gravity: if you place a Time Lord with an approximate mass of 70kg at the top of a radio telescope, say Jodrell Bank, 89m above a planet with mass 5.972×10^24kg, and then have him let go, he will hit the planet a little over three seconds later.)
‘Logopolis’ and its sequel ‘Castrovalva’ seem to me to be stories that could only be told within the world of Doctor Who, concerned as they are with the manipulation, destruction and reconstruction of the show’s unique central icons: the Doctor and the TARDIS. One could go further and say that another of the show’s unique qualities is its acceptance of and dependance upon this same process of reconstruction.