Project 1: The craft of writing

Notes, from CAT binder: pages 66-68.

  • Writing = “expressing language by letters or other marks’ (Peter T. Daniels, 1996)
  • These marks form a system of signs
  • A sign is an arbitrary name we assign to an object or concept.
    • Arbitrary: arising from accident, rather than rule; not bound by rules
      We need context to give the signs meaning (Chambers dictionary, 12th edition)

This takes me back to Literary Theory in university and reminds me of a beautiful extract in one of my favorite films, Waking Life (2001).

While it’s easy to contextualize a more or less concrete sign, like “train” (the example given in the text), signs that refer to more abstract concepts are even more slippery. As readers and writers (of any text), its important to keep the shortcomings of language in mind, for they can be both freeing and frustrating. As an Anglophone living in a Francophone country, for example, I notice errors of English translation that have rather serious implications. Of course, most of us are all too familiar with how insufficient are words that want to describe or summarize all the complexity of emotions and the experiences that inform them. Communication skills are so often emphasized, I think, because so often language falls short of our needs. Writers and readers (and artists whose work incorporates text) need to contend with this, and it’s a fascinating subject.

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The course material thus far raises interesting questions about the implications of the first textual revolution (the printing press) and the digital revolution, which, of course, is still informing the way we write, read and interact with text and language.

Research Point: Hazel Smith’s essay ‘Creative Writing and New Media’ in The Cambridge Companion to Creative Writing (p.102-17)

Notes:
I read through the text several times, creating an extensive online mind-map that is viewable here. It’s also available for viewing as a PDF.

How it relates to my own work:
I didn’t enjoy this reading, although it taught me a lot about a world of interactive and “new media” writing that I knew nothing about. I love writing and reading, but I really resist “on-screen” reading. We are on-screen all the time, and I believe there is an art to staying human that involves being in our bodies, engaging in more traditional ways of being, consuming, interacting.

The point Smith makes about new media writing breaking the romantic myth of the writer (or artist) struck by Genius or inexplicable Inspiration, and instead entrusting a computer to generate text, or allow it to emerge, was an interesting one. Although I’m not attached to the idea of artist-as-genius (in fact, I’m really hoping that’s not a prerequisite to a satisfying life in the arts), I am fairly attached to the idea of humans keeping some activities for themselves. For me, making art (including writing literature) is part of that magical space that I want to reserve for real, living, thinking, breathing and reasoning folks.

I’m not against people making or consuming art or text on-screen, but it’s not for me. I did take the time to look at some of the works mentioned in this article, mostly found in the Electronic Literature Collection, and it all felt mechanical, dated, awkward, tedious. I really enjoy the traditional relationship between author and reader, or storyteller and listener/more or less passive receiver of the story. I may look further into this world (I feel sure there is something evocative or interesting for me in there somewhere) but I also feel somewhat sure that this isn’t a mode of writing I’ll be experimenting with anytime soon.

For further reference:

 

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