On the Modernist Roots of Revision

As discussed this week at workshop, some scholars believe our current beliefs about the importance and necessary depth of revision derive from the practices of Modernist authors at the turn of the century in conjunction with one very significant invention: the typewriter. Below is an excerpt of Craig Fehrman’s fascinating article for the Boston Globe discussing Hannah Sullivan’s new book, The Work of Revision, and the evolution of the writing process throughout history:

“It’s easy to assume that history’s greatest authors have been history’s greatest revisers. But that wasn’t always how it worked. Until about a century ago, according to various biographers and critics, literature proceeded through handwritten manuscripts that underwent mostly small-scale revisions.

Then something changed. In a new book, “The Work of Revision,” Hannah Sullivan, an English professor at Oxford University, argues that revision as we now understand it—where authors, before they publish anything, will spend weeks tearing it down and putting it back together again—is a creation of the 20th century. It was only under Modernist luminaries like Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, and Virginia Woolf that the practice came to seem truly essential to creating good literature. Those authors, Sullivan writes, were the first who “revised overtly, passionately, and at many points in the lifespan of their texts.”

What caused these writers to put their faith in revision as the key to good literature? In part, it was the philosophy of Modernism—the idea that a novel or poem should challenge the reader, break with tradition, and, in the words of Pound, “Make it new.” But Sullivan, who belongs to a new wave of scholars trying to understand literature through the physical and historical realities of its creation, finds that our value of revision was also driven by something else: the typewriter.

It might seem strange to think that we owe the high style of Modernism—and the notion that even a book titled “Dad is Fat” requires strenuous reworking—to a machine. But “The Work of Revision” makes a case that what we write often comes down to how we write. Careful revision isn’t automatic or even automatically useful. And that means, as our technology changes once again, that literary style may already be undergoing another transformation.” — Craig Fehrman, “Revising your writing again? Blame the Modernists,” 30 June 2013.

Follow the link above to enjoy the rest of the article–which goes into greater detail about the typewriter’s impact on the writing/revising process and reveals the revision practices of some of our most beloved authors–over at the Boston Globe.

Do you have a revision ritual or writing process that works for you? Strange habits that help you create? We want to hear from you, so please share in the comments below! 

Advertisements

‘The Art of the Final Sentence’ via The Millions

“For writers, the last sentences aren’t about reader responsibility at all — it’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance to stop worrying about what comes next, because nothing does. No more keeping the reader interested, no more wariness over giving the game away. This is the best time for a writer to get real, to depict reality as they see it, without compromises, without fear.”
                           – Jonathan Russell Clark
Read the rest of Jonathan Russell Clark’s “The Art of the Final Sentence” at The Millions, and be sure to check out other essays in Clark’s “The Art of…” series, perhaps “The Art of the Opening Sentence” for the sake of balance.
What’s your favorite final sentence?

 

IDEAS: Considering Technology’s Impact on the Humanities, via The Millions

via The Millions, credit: Pixabay

“Aside from issues of life and death, there is no more urgent task for American intellectuals and writers than to think critically about the salience, even the tyranny, of technology in individual and collective life.”

– Leon Wieseltier, Among the Disrupted 

from The Millions, “Only Connect: Social (Media) Anxiety,” by Sarah Labrie:

“‘Aside from issues of life and death, there is no more urgent task for American intellectuals and writers than to think critically about the salience, even the tyranny, of technology in individual and collective life,’ wrote Leon Wieseltier last month in his call to arms against the threat technology poses to humanism. ‘Among the Disrupted‘ sparked a heated debate among its readers, or at least, as heated as can reasonably be expected in the letters section of the New York Times Book Review. As one critic pointed out, there are plenty of more urgent issues for all of us to ponder, child poverty and the pay gap among them. What struck me, though, wasn’t the essay’s hyperbole, but the inaccuracy of its target.

covercoverThe problem facing writers now isn’t the growing prominence of tech, but the question of how deeply the two fields are intertwined, and what that relationship means. Most of the notable works of fiction published in recent years (Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad and Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven spring immediately to mind) present thoughtful considerations of the evolving relationship between the self and technology, and a lot of the people who read these books probably read them on the Kindle app. The same people who subscribe to Harpers read work published by the Atavist and curated by Longform. I’m writing right now in the notepad app on my iPhone, and you’re reading on your computer or your iPad or your own phone. How many writers do you know at this point who don’t have their own websites, Tumblrs, or blogs? For that matter, how many do you know who aren’t on Twitter?”

Read the rest at The Millions

We want to hear from you! Tell us what you think in the comments below (or tweet us @chapmanoutreach–just don’t tell these two authors)!

Do you agree with Wieseltier that technology poses a tyrannical threat to the humanities? to individual and collective life? to human connection in general?

How is your own writing intertwined with technology and social media? If it isn’t, how and why is that?

Lynda Barry on Keeping a Diary

The point of the daily diary exercise is not to record what you already know about what happened to you in the last 24 hours. Instead, it’s an invitation to the back of your mind to come forward and reveal to you the perishable images about the day you didn’t notice you noticed at all.” — Lynda Barry

Lynda Barry on various "Daily Diary" practices - via Tumblr

Lynda Barry on various “Daily Diary” practices – via Tumblr


In a recent Tumblr post, artist, author and professor Lynda Barry discusses the many variations on her diary-keeping exercises. As opposed to a place for simply logging one’s most recent 24-hour haze day after day after day, Barry’s diaries “teach you to hear, see, and remember the world all around you.

“The point of this practice is to begin to notice when we notice something.  It’s akin to a certain sort of ‘waking up’ – and becoming present in a different way than we usually are in our day to day lives.  We catch ourselves noting something that has caught our eye or our ear. We begin to realize these flashes of awakeness [sic] –(which can oddly feel also like dreaming), are happening to us all day long…” (Barry)

To highlight some of the diary-keeping parameters that might help you throughout our workshop and in the future, here’s a short list of what to include in your diary/journal/notebook [as quoted from Barry’s drawings above/below]:

  • things that you noticed when you became present — that is to say when the hamster wheel of thoughts and plans and worries stopped long enough for you to notice where you were and what was going on around you…
  • things you did
  • things you observed
  • things you overheard
  • drawings.

Barry’s Tumblr is not only an excellent source of notebook-keeping wisdom, but also full of incredible golden nuggets of inspiration from around the web and world at large. For now here’s a page from her most recent book, Syllabus, which was published just last year. As always, Barry poses insightful questions with multiple, perhaps unending, answers. I invite you to spend some time reflecting on the questions posed here in your workshop journal. And remember: There are no wrong answers.

Lynda Barry, “Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor.” Drawn & Quarterly (2014).

 

Friday Free Write: Three Prompts from ‘Poets & Writers”

Via Poets & Writers:

FICTION:

“So many great films have been released over the past year, many of which have been adapted for the screen from works of fiction and creative nonfiction. This week, think of a movie you love that isn’t based on a book and try to write a short story version of it. Examine the types of shots used, the lighting, how scenes are staged, and try to translate these visuals into the structure of your story. For inspiration, read this article in Electric Literature.”

POETRY:

“…write a poem about your name. When you were born, you were given a name before beginning to develop a sense of self. Have you grown into your name, or have you always resisted it? Knowing who you are today, where you’ve come from, and where you see yourself going, would you choose a different name for yourself?”

CREATIVE NONFICTION:

“The interplanetary travel nonprofit Mars One is holding a competition for those eager to be the first humans to live on Mars. One of the finalists has said, “If I die on Mars, that would be an accomplishment.” Would you ever volunteer for such a mission? Do you have what it takes to survive on a desolate, desert planet? Write about how you’d feel if you got the opportunity to leave Earth. What would you miss, and what would you be glad to leave behind?”

What is Literature for? via The School of Life

via The School of Life:

“Literature is the greatest ‘reality simulator,’ a machine that puts you through infinitely more situations than you could ever directly witness… It lets you speed up time, in order to see the arc of a life from childhood to old age…Literature cures you of provincialism and, at almost no cost, turns us into citizens of the world…”

Do you agree? What do you think literature is for? Write it out! 

Link: The Atlantic’s ‘By Heart’ Series

“By Heart” asks authors share and discuss their all-time favorite passages in literature.

“Reading Lolita in Tehran author Azar Nafisi says the best books are ‘republics of imagination’ erasing national and historic boundaries.” via The Atlantic, By Heart

Follow the link for ‘Writing to Transcend Time and Space,’ Azar Nafisi’s full post on the importance of art.

And be sure to check out the full By Heart series, which includes passages/selections from Gruff Rhys, Jonathan Franzen, Mark Ronson, Amy Tan, Khaled Hosseini, Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, and more.

Thinking Outside the Book with Brian Dettmer

Brian Dettmer

Brian Dettmer

Otherwise known as the Book Surgeon, Brian Dettmer carves old books new again, using knives, scalpels and other surgical tools to completely transform them into sculptures.

paper-sculpture-book-surgeon-brian-dettmer-4

Brian Dettmer

 

paper-sculpture-book-surgeon-brian-dettmer-5

Brian Dettmer

 

paper-sculpture-book-surgeon-brian-dettmer-16

Brian Dettmer

 

paper-sculpture-book-surgeon-brian-dettmer-22

Brian Dettmer

 

paper-sculpture-book-surgeon-brian-dettmer-28

Brian Dettmer

Dettmer says of his art, “My work is a collaboration with the existing material and its past creators and the completed pieces expose new relationships of the book’s internal elements exactly where they have been since their original conception.” — via BoredPanda.com

For more info and photos of Dettmer’s art, head to Bored Panda or the artist’s website at briandettmer.com.

Be sure to also check out this excellent video, in which Dettmer explains his process and approach.

FRIDAY FREE-WRITE: Writing the Unseen…

J.J. Abrams says his unopened mystery box from childhood represents “infinite possibility,” the sense of potential that hangs in balance with the unseen.

Grab your notebook! Trap your characters inside of a mystery box–a car, a freight container on a moving train, a basement, a kleenex box on a desk–any space, at any scale. Describe the setting and tension as accurately as possible without ever finally revealing exactly where they are.

Not feeling it? Revisit a piece of your writing and think about the unseen or off-screen details that haven’t been exploited. Exploit them.