Monday, October 6, 2014

why i am not a painter

On Saturday I was still working on my display for the Library Vaccine installation at Artists Space - a mere 10 days after the opening of the show.  I asked one of the staff whether I might keep the keys and stay after hours; the curatorial assistant, Rachel Pedderson, approved this, so I stayed on under the impression that a few hours would suffice.  Ended up working straight through the night and on up to noon the following day, which did not, truth to tell, feel like a long session -- this is the way I would work if I were a permanent occupant of the library, which was, after all, the normal state of affairs until I left Berlin two years ago to, erm, finish a book in two months. (It's the stalker's biennial. Yay.)

Progress was slower than usual because I was composing for a wall.  These days, of course, a writer normally pours a stream of words into the bottomless well of the hard drive -- no sooner have I committed this metaphor to my as-yet-unpublished post than I see that it's completely up the creek (and "up the creek" seems to have come through the fingers without a brain-check), and needless to say I can remove all trace of this bodge at negligible inconvenience.  Or leave it up simply to remind us all of the importance of revision... Length is not much of a consideration -- if a post is insanely long I can a) put most of it below the fold, b) break it up into two posts, c) break it up into three posts, (and so on).  At any point I can put one or all versions under considerations in the drafts folder. And if new brilliant ideas occur to me as I develop the one or more separate posts into which I am subdividing my initial post this is GOOD -- or rather, the only point at issue is whether they are, in fact, new and brilliant. Allotting them additional posts is not a problem, nor is allotting them space in the drafts folder.

Composing for a wall, or rather a wall and four tables (whose surface is largely occupied by books), is naturally quite different.  The area available is fixed.  And all of it cannot be used, at least not without a lot of ingenuity. Given yet more time I might have used the expanse above the 6" mark by, say, using increasingly larger typeface and images which would be visible from the ground.  The floorline looks less promising, but no, given time perhaps I could have done something useful such as display a range of scripts which might be new to the visitor.  Prime real estate, however, was limited, and typing on a screen turns out to be poor training for gauging how much wall space a text or image will require to be, not just visible, but apprehensible. I would print things out on tabloid paper and stick them up and find whatever it was going on for several pages (i.e. down to the floor), or extending relentlessly down the length of the wall.  Doing the old CTRL-A and reducing the font size to 10 or even 8 pt -- I believe there are monuments which do the equivalent in cuneiform, but --  Long story short, I seemed to spend a lot of time reformatting pieces of paper and sticking them up and taking them down.  Much of this, lately, courtesy of  Barbara Epler of New Directions, who with unbelievable kindness let me move my suitcases to her apartment last Tuesday and stay there when I was not revising the wall.

For a writer, anyway, the point when a document is "finished" is the point when you stand back, look at the thing as a whole, and realize that it can be improved by drastic structural changes.  New brilliant ideas occur.  But Barbara has another guest coming tomorrow, and I can't think off-hand of anyone else who might have a room to spare, and in any case I am already not sure that all this endless revision was in the spirit of the thing.  So I am heading back to Vermont.  For the time being.

One thought I'd had was that having my library in NYC might make it easier to get somewhere with the Mute Inglorious Nabokovs project -- and if I lived in NYC perhaps it would have done so. I don't really know whether it is possible to enable a complete novice to get the hang of the Greek script and a few elements of grammar and read the first 10 or 20 lines of the Iliad or Odyssey in an hour or so - but here was the library, here were four tables and this splendid space, it looked like a chance to find out.  I don't know whether this could be done with a range of texts in other languages - that is, whether variety would be exciting or just confusing - but it looked like a chance to find out.  Various academic friends had said it is actually very tricky to try something like this in a college setting - it does not fall squarely under the remit of a single department, it is not filling a need which any department has already identified, so it would be hard to get funding.  So I thought a different venue might be a better starting point -- and, of course, have not really managed to use it in this way.

If any readers of pp happen to be in New York in the next month, anyway, there are notes and drafts of stories and the novella Paper Pool, not to mention the chance to sit quietly down with Gordon's Introduction to Old Norse or O'Neill's Reader of Handwritten Japanese.  The gallery is at 38 Greene Street, between Broome and Grand. opening hours Tuesday-Sunday 12-6.

(And now I must catch my train.)


Vincent Oostelbos said...

I would have loved to visit the exposition, but unfortunately it's impractical for me to go all the way to NYC from over here in the Netherlands in that timeframe.

All the same, congratulations on getting your display done. I hope you're happy with it, and people will like it.

Incidentally, I don't know if you care, but I notice you use "--" sometimes as a dash. I did the same until recently, when I realized I preferred the look of the "em dash", which at least in Windows is easy to get with alt+0151 (en dash is 0150). In LaTeX, the em dash is "---" and the en dash is "--"—although since you already use "--" here I take it this blog at least does not use/allow LaTeX, unless you're explicitly making it into "--" by typing something like "\-\-" in which case you apparently prefer it that way; either way, that part likely won't help you for this blog. I'm not really sure why I even brought it up.

But, yes, congratulations!

Helen DeWitt said...

Re double hyphen vs. em dash, in the privacy of my personal documents I tend to use a hyphen, but I know some people find that annoying (though admittedly doubling the number of hyphens is not necessarily going to be less annoying). When I am writing in some format that does not provide special characters I sometimes copy in an em dash out of Mellel or Word. My Mac doesn't recognize alt+0151; there may well be a keyboard shortcut I don't know.

Amelia P. said...

I have just informed my brother in NY that he must visit this exhibit for me.

After reading the account of your stalker in LRB, I went to the library and checked out The Last Samurai. I'm going to sound like an gawping fangirl here, but I adore this novel, can't wait to read Lightning Rods, and am now doubly pissed off at your stalker as he is preventing you from finishing the next book.