Saturday, 10 January 2009

The Anthology: I

Today is my first day of intensive anthology work. I spent an hour or so here and there in the past week, but today I spent a significant amount of time with the work I have up until now received.

Alright, I'm doing that thing where I don't start at the start. In media res is a recognized epic convention, and this is an epic of a process, but I'll make it easier for you and give you the structure.

Right now we're in the preliminary stages. We have each sent to all of the other contributors a package of work from which we'd like to fill our ten pages in the anthology. Upon receiving the other contributors' packages, we are to read through what each classmate has written and rank the pieces according to how much we'd like to see them published. We send our ranking to a class facilitator, who will tally these and do assorted calculation upon them. We also edit those ten pages we have decided should go in, and send those edits to the person who wrote it. Later there will be other work, such as responding to the edits and further review of the work, plus assorted publication-type stuff which I am not yet aware of. Right now my concerns are ranking and editing.

All process is cc'd to the course coordinator.

I have read through and ranked everything I was sent as of 2 o'clock this afternoon. I also held my red pen while reading, but these pieces were polished enough that I didn't hit anything obvious. Editing will be more than just surface stuff here; we'll be combing, digging, questioning, debating options, considering order or placement. It will not only be, is everything technically correct?, but, is everything the best of all possible alternatives? My eyes already hurt.

I will not reveal very much about the content here, because I have other people's senses of privacy and anticipation to worry about. What I will say is that I am concerned the anthology will be too moody as a whole, that we are all clambering on little soap boxes and yelling things, not too concerned that we will be all yelling over top of each other, our unique furies jumbling and piling so that the overall impression is raw and unhelpful indigination. I have kept this in mind when ranking. Things get points simply for being happy, pretty, not emo, or not outraged-social-activist. That's not to say that everything outraged-social-activist gets shut down--I try to bring these to the fore--but I consider what amount of awareness or change can be enacted by the pieces, and if all I see is foam, it loses it points. Now, nothing I've read is all foam, don't get me wrong. I mean this only comparatively.

I have also begun to discover the possibility of friction between literary styles/theories of art. Friction over punctuation controversy might also arise (all hail the serial comma!), but that could really only lead to inconsistencies from one author to another, which is harldy uncommon. What might be more problematic is the fundamental issue of whether the reader needs to understand a piece of literature. One of the two longer prose pieces I included in my package revolved around a boy who has what is essentially a mystical experience. The boy doesn't understand this experience. Neither has any reader so far. Not even the author fully understands it. Someone suggested that this may be a problem. Why, I was asked, are particular visions/revelations included? They seem off the plot. Another piece met similar, though actually different, criticism. This poem (a rant with line breaks, really) is ladden with religious, philosophical, commercial, and scientific language, and makes use of such disparate sources as Catholic theology, the law of parsimony, and commercial advertising. Hardly anyone I know will understand each piece of jargon, or follow each turn of phrase to its originating artifact. Is it necessary that the reader follow each and every reference, or does a comprehension of the mood and direction of the piece suffice? On the other hand, I have pieces which anyone who knows what a skunk is will understand, or anyone who can believe the craziness of Fort McMurray will follow easily. So do I not include the pieces which have bits you won't immediately or ever understand?

This changes, of course, with some of the pieces other people sent me. In mine, at least it is usually only particular parts or words that aren't understood, and in the one the fact that it cannot be understood is relevant to the story as a whole. That is, the visions themselves may not be wholly intelligible, but the rest of the narrative hopefully is--and there are fewer visionary passages than non-visionary passages. Some of the work other people have sent me seems somehow more generally opaque. I understand each bit, but I don't understand how or why the bits are gathered as they are. This is not to say it wasn't well written and observant, but simply that I could not determine why it was I was reading this, or what I was to take from it. For some people, this is perfectly acceptable in art. Comprehension, to them, is not a requirement for appreciation. To others, if you cannot understand it in one reading--and by understand I mean at least grasp the gist of it, and have no need to read it again to discuss it intelligently--then art has failed its purpose. I tend to think that you should be able to draw at least enough to be satisfied with one reading, but there should also be stuff in there to dig out if you care to. However, those who wrote things that offered me no unified sense of meaning after three readings would likely disagree. To certain people, a clump of words (or paint, or clay) is art if it makes you think about it, and that is all. (Well, I'd agree with that. I just wouldn't think it's good art if that's all it did.)

And then there's the question of how much implicit information should be available, etc. But that's more technical and less based on fundamental definitions of the value of art.

Another thing I've noticed is how jaded I am about child abuse in literature. I see a character who either grew up in a threatening environment or is growing up in a threatening environment, and my immediate reaction is, "That's cliché." Child abuse is cliché, or at least child abuse in art is. How awful is that?

Other than the fact that all of those parts of me which are required in reading, scribbling, and typing (eyes, fingers, brain) hurt right now, I must say that I am enjoying this progress somewhat. It is exciting, and my cohorts are skilled with words, so there is truly excellent writing ahead of me. I still have some editing before I go out to a club tonight (I know!).

Later, you lot,

English Clergyman

1 comment:

Scumbag Sam said...

wow... too...many...words...brain...ouch....

have fun in the club! Behave yourself!

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