Pressurized Writing, Pushed Writing, Bound Writing

At the recent &Now Conference in Buffalo, NY, I sat on a panel about collaborative projects with John Dermot Woods, Johannes Göransson, and Tim Wood. And during the Q and A portion, there were several ideas raised about the collaborative process and its potential to partially limit or bind a writer – some comments even pointing out how we panelists saw this as a welcome challenge, a nice way to be forced in different directions.

This connects for me with the recent Big Other talks about contests and why we enter them. For me, the deadline, the limits, the boundaries, this is a way to goad my writing, to ask me down a new path, to push me where I haven’t been.

Yes notoriety, yes accolades and resume placement, yes money, but also: provocation. It is due right now, no exceptions, It must be under X words. It must include A, B, or C. I couldn’t write this way all the time, and I wouldn’t want to, but sometimes, it is the push that leads me on.

Do artists sometimes need to be bound, to be gagged, so that the material swells in us, so that we are pressed into something uncomfortable and fresh and sparking?

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9 thoughts on “Pressurized Writing, Pushed Writing, Bound Writing

  1. Absolutely– to me, this is the beauty of Oulipian writing.

    “Oulipians: rats who construct the labyrinth from which they plan to escape.”
    –Raymond Queneau

  2. michael: i’m all about the oulipo–they influenced me & my writing in unreal ways–but couldn’t the argument be made that all writing is oulipean? even trade, market-driven realism has the constraint of being market-driven realism. that can be as difficult a constraint as any mathematical constraint i put on my writing. what do you think?

    ja: we’ve collaborated. what was your experience with it? ok. so it wasn’t REALLY collaboration, more like giving me your unfinished story, but still. i’m curious.

    john: you too, especially because ours was much more of a collaboration.

    • Hey Lily,

      Some games are played in solitude, against oneself. Others are played with others. And others played against others. And others are played with others against others. Writing itself can be a kind of play. And when you invited me to send you a story, that was one of the ways I thought of it: an invitation to play.

      I have so many ideas, sketches, “false” starts and “dead” ends in my folders, and it is highly unlikely that I will ever get to all of them. So I was very happy to send one of these to you. What began as an interesting little vignette, after our back and forth, grew into a beast of beautiful sequences.

      Editing someone else’s piece is often easier than editing one’s own and what I think your project did was open up new stories for you, but also gave me a chance to work on what had become a new story for me. A nice game.

      I also like how the project toys with, critiques the hegemony, the centrality of the “author,” the “artist,” while at the same time exploring ideas of interdependence.

      Also, I think the argument can be made that “market-driven realism” may be as difficult a constraint, in terms of acquiring a command of its mechanisms, techniques, tropes, forms, etc., as any. But since this is what is, in our market-driven society, constantly encouraged, I’m unsure whether it can really be considered oppositional. Why not instead explore the constraints of so-called realism without in any way caring about its marketability? One might even come up with something that proves that it’s still (in a sensitive artist’s hands like Mary Capoegro’s whose recent story collection tempers her more fabulist proclivities into a more “realistic” mode with excellent results) as inexhaustible a form as any other one.

    • Sure, if I sat down to write some market-driven realism that would be a much bigger constraint for me than, say, writing a novel without the letter “e.” I guess it has to do with one’s comfort zone. This is also why I admire artists who can work within many different genres which imply different sets of constraints.

      Wong Kar-wai, for instance, has done the sentimental movie (In the Mood for Love), the martial arts movie (Ashes of Time), the gangster movie (Fallen Angels), the sci-fi (2046)… too bad his attempt at a more market driven American movie (My Blueberry Nights) was such a flop…

      And speaking of Lars Von Trier (I haven’t seen Antichrist yet so I haven’t read Greg’s post), his collaboration with Jørgen Leth, The Five Obstructions, is one of the most beautiful films that I’ve seen that thematizes constraint as a richly motivating force.

      • Hi Michael,

        I agree that Wong Kar-wai is a good example of someone able to navigate through different modes. You can add Ang Lee and Richard Linklater as well.

        What about literary equivalences?

        Oh, and I loved The Five Obstructions, especially the animation bit.

  3. lh, I think you are so right. there is even constraint (perhaps more so) in the way we think about publicity, marketing, selling to a press, etc. as we construct our works. I had not thought about that but it is so true.

    as for our collaboration, though it was slight, it was maybe the biggest show of how collaborative projects can lead writers forward: I was stuck on that piece, calling it dead to the world, and then you revived it and made it into something very workable.

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