Writing about writing as artwork
Oh dear. That thing’s happening again. Night-time hyperactivity. I have too much to do and I don’t remotely want to go to sleep. Too many of the things are too exciting. I should be over tired, I barely slept last night because:
- 01:00ish – unexplained helicopter above our heads
- 04:00ish – bad dream about moving an artwork in a large museum because I thought it should be movable rather than static and then getting in trouble with the curator
- 05:30ish – bird singing very early and my feeling the need to tweet about it for #diyDC
- 05:45ish – imaginary worries about family members
- 05:50ish hearing our neighbour wake up, then listening out for anyone else on the street leaving for work oddly early
- 06:00ish – sudden fear of sharks
I really don’t know what brought on the sharks.
I got home exhausted this evening and wearing all my brother’s clothes. It poured with rain as I found my way to his new flat this afternoon and my wet things had to come home with me in a bag. My feet came home in bags too, as it happens. We couldn’t get my shoes dry, so he lent me a pair of new socks and put a plastic bag over each sock for a layer of waterproofing.
I’ve been reading more Richard Schechner today (Between Theater and Anthropology), because I’m putting together a project about restored behaviour. Schechner writes about ‘twiceness’ in performance: that a character being performed is both ‘not’ that character (because it’s really an actor) and ‘not not’ that character (because the actor’s not being an actor but a character).
Something similar happens when you write about yourself or your work. You can find yourself doubled. In his book Self-Impression, Max Saunders
“discusses the vogue for fake memoirs, a genre he calls ‘autobiografiction,’ that is books in which the ‘I’ is an adopted alter ego, performed with complete convincingness. Saunders is interested in the way people romance themselves into another persona, and then give this ‘imaginary friend’ a complete life story.”
That was Marina Warner, describing Saunders’ book in her LRB review of Tracey Emin’s Hayward exhibition. She goes on: “To appear to be confessing, not inventing, has become a necessary ingredient of a successful work of art. Tracey Emin the artist is the imaginary friend of Emin the life-writer.”
I’ve been writing a diary for more than half my life now. I write every day, and I frequently wonder about its effect over the years. Whether I like it or not, I think it provokes a similar kind of doubling. I was flicking through a diary from April 2011 earlier today, and found these notes:
Nevertheless the diary format does interest me. You can leave a line or two of space to indicate that between one paragraph and the next you’ve gone out of the book and into the world, and now you’re back, the book comes with you and stays behind at once. Goodness. These books are my oldest companions. You see: I live particularly in twiceness. I would be interested to look through these diaries to find references to the diaries themselves, to writing them, to their effect.
I came back to my desk from brushing my teeth earlier and found it good that the book was there, open and waiting and attentive, and I sat back down amongst it to keep marking the time.
Sometimes I write and the page isn’t listening.
Often this diary is a way of marking time. I might write: “I am in Berlin now,” like checking in, with a time stamp. It isn’t to describe being in Berlin, but to put together myself, Berlin, and the twiceness of myself. What would have happened if, say, I’d gone all the way to Bangladesh and back with my diary, but had neglected to write in it throughout? And how would it be different from having gone to Bangladesh, neglected to write, but also neglected to bring the actual book along?
Confirmation. You confirm life by writing it down. You confirm it by talking to friends, taking pictures, recalling… if you don’t get a chance to do this confirmation, at a distance from life, then you either get problems with accumulation or you find a way to confirm life in the actual living of life.
There: I have been away and done things; you have waited for two and a half blank lines but I have been away more than an hour. Do I wish I were you, book? The one waiting instead of the one having to go and do things to write down?
I’ve just photographed this tabletop, about a dozen photographs along its length, in eight columns or so.
I have relatives either side of Australia: cousins in Perth, grandmother in Sydney. A few years ago I took a three-day train ride from one side to the other. I travelled alone. I slept and ate and showered on the train. Sometimes it would stop at night, sometimes it would keep going, through landscapes spectacular for their scale and sunrise and sameness.
I filled all my twelve video tapes on the journey, desperate to catch it all. Afterwards I looked through the tapes and almost every minute showed the inside of my tiny cabin: the fold-up metal washbasin, the fold-up table, the madly thin cupboard, the chair becoming a bed at night-time, the peculiar catch lock on the door, the shutters against the glass. The paper cups of tea. It remains the happiest holiday I can recall.
Only recently have I come to appreciate how absurd it was, and how telling, that I should travel the breadth of a continent and stare lovingly at the inside of my compartment throughout. I have every little detail down on tape. I did spend hours staring from the window, and climbed out to explore at every pit stop, but very little of that ended up on tape.
Working my way through the text I’m preparing for the lovesong book, I’m reminded of the little compartment on the train. Trying to write to the line of ink I’m writing, trying to get it to listen to the words I’m putting it through, but it’s only alive to me at the fleeting and racing point of contact with my nib. The desperate need to hold still a thrilling and wonderful thing that will not stop moving, and the hope that if you grip hold of the only bit within reach, it might still count for something even though it isn’t the bit that thrills.
Perhaps that’s not quite it. The fold-up table and the little catch that held it in place genuinely thrilled me on their own. That’s not a bad thing is it?