Friday, September 30, 2011

Enter Here: Repetition & Revision

Stream-of-consciousness writing can be a useful tool for freeing up words and ideas in preparation to make or write something, but if it is presented as an end product it may be hard on the reader. What does s/he make of seemingly unrelated imagery, disjointed phrases, a word written over and over? The visual equivalent is collage or assemblage in its rawest form; it contains everything imagined in one piece, as if the artist had horror vacui: a fear or dislike of leaving empty spaces. We don't mind these written and visual pieces, in fact we might even seek them out if we are interested in the artist's process, but if we are not interested in how the artist works, the pieces may appear confusing, jumbled, and disjointed. The viewer needs a way in, an entry point.

William James wrote about the adult stream of consciousness as a psychological phenomenon. James Joyce used the style in Ulysses. Some say Gertrude Stein used it as well. Writing classes use it as a writing practice: keep writing for n minutes without stopping, keep your pen moving, don't edit, let your mind wander as you write. The connections, I think, are between the flow of the material, the personal nature of one's thoughts, and the continuous change of those thoughts over time. For a writer who uses this method as a daily practice, s/he might be able to achieve the flow of repetition and revision that will be exciting and fresh. S/he may be able to discover and uncover surprising thoughts. But it will likely take some shaping and organizing to get to the heart of the work.

When my friend teaches a collage or assemblage workshop she advises students to discard most of the material they've assembled. More is not better in this case; it is only more confusing. It is fun to intuitively work with the material, moving it around, layering it, but the maker doesn't have to provide every single detail; s/he should try to leave a little room for the viewer's imagination, memory, and experiences. There's got to be a way to organize it, whether by color, shape, theme, or in a way that tells a story, which might be through juxtaposition, conflict, or through a relationship between the subjects. Writing can be organized by, but not necessarily limited to, theme/concept, chronology, character, or location.

A collection is often a catalyst for a project; it automatically has an organizing theme. For some reason I have boxes full of collected picture postcards, stamps ripped off of their envelopes, and a clothespin holding a stack of parking permits, among other ephemera. I could pick one of these collections and group the stamps by color, for example, or postcards by location, or parking permits by date, then transform them by adding a story or poem, creating a traveling character, or painting on top of them. I could make a flip book or a flag book, something that would show both the similarities and the differences. Or I could take just one image and write about it (or color copy or scan and print out multiple times). Then work with it again from a different angle and continue working—repeating and revising until something exciting emerges.

"Repetition and revision" is a concept that surfaced recently in the "Plays & Politics" class I am taking. The term is used in describing a storytelling style in some of Shakespeare's plays, in jazz, in Toni Morrison's Belovedin learning to play an instrument, and in the plays of Suzan-Lori Parks. I think it is also useful to apply it to bookmaking and think about making books that are like jazz pieces. Repetition familiarizes us with the material and gives us a way in. Change wakes us up.

1 comment:

Laura Tringali Holmes said...

I agree that the "more is more" school of expression can overide synaptical pathways, at least mine, when viewing a work. The internal editor is an unsung hero!