Saturday, 7 February 2015

Vanishings and Reappearances
in the Twittersphere:
Writing on and through Twitter 3

The Politics of Wind
'To see the wind, with a man his eyes, it is unpossible, the nature of it is so fine, and subtle, yet this experience of the wind had I once myself' - Roger Ascham, Toxophilus

  • No one has seen the wind, only its effects. But what about the effect on the eyes, how they close against it, how they seem to be seeing it?
  • When leaves raise hands it is not because they want to leave the room. They might want to get in. Or they are simply helpless, saying: stop!
  • The reality that is the wind meets the reality that is the glass. They don't cancel each other out, they stand there looking at each other.
  • The wind will blow us away! It eats the revolution's children. It proposes another revolution, and another. It is the politics of gust.
  • The wind is inside our arms and legs. It shudders through ribs and vertebrae. It has its own body but it wants ours, both heart and mind.

2. The disparate and discontinuous

On the great rushing stream of Twitter are carried a variety of commmunications: political, personal, scholarly, commercial, erotic, moral, philosophical, experimental, trivial - flowing in no particular order, according to no particular classification apart from the ubiquitous hashtag. The order of reading the twitter stream is simply the order in which any tweet might be written or arrive. That lack of order is another given. The condition of the individual tweet is to be detached not only from its tribe but from its originator. I might write two tweets in a minute but they will not appear next to each other in the stream unless you tune specifically to me: they are not a well-organised convoy or flotilla but flotsam and jetsam, scraps consumed as scraps by those feeding on it. The idea of voice or character as continuity is constantly being modified by what comes in between.

3.Developing broken continuities

The poems I wrote on Twitter began to develop in length - quatrains in rhyme, distichs in classical metres, haiku about haiku, haiku that preserved a syllabic structure - some of invited continuation and I soon began to work on sequences, often ten-stanza poems or texts, individual tweets now linked, now in watertight individual sections that could be read as complete in itself. Themes emerged: disasters, animals, journeys, disorientation, language, manners, ageing and death. Those who followed me knew where to look to discover the next apparently distinct verse or episode. They could reconnect the fractures. As for me, once the sections were drafted and avaliable for fishing out of the stream, I joined them up off Twitter, re-drafted, and posted the new joined-up draft on Facebook, hanging the poems out to dry, as it were. Once the text appeared there I could redraft again. Facebook was incomplete publication and when asked for one of the texts - including by magazines and anthologies - I would give them the latest post-Facebook version. This meant Facebook had a literary function as part of a drafting process that had begun at the vital compositional stage as an ephemeral, disparate and discontinuous scattering. Twitter, in other words, was a condition of first-level production.

4. Between Twitter and book: discontinuity as a value

Soon after I started tweeting, inventing characters, constructing poems, experimenting with forms, I was approached by an editor at an American publishing house who was particularly intrigued by the adventures of a character called Langoustine, who was, as the name suggests, a lobster. This lobster had become the companion of an earlier figure, a melancholy somewhat disillisuioned yet gothic doctor who found himself transformed into a crab on Cromer beach. Once the two came together they constituted a partnership and a dialogue ensued, its tenor pitched somewhere between Becket’s Vladimir and Estragon on the one hand and Elsie and Doris Waters of old fashioned radio comedy on the other. The editor liked the tweets and asked to look at a number, so I compiled them into a collection of over two hundred broadly thematic conversations, but seeing them together she cooled off somewhat, which was a clear demonstration of the advantages of fragmentation and detachment, She missed the fragmentation, the discovery in between other material, the intrigue and surprise.

(There is in fact a complete novella called Black Box, written by the American novelist Jennifer Egan. I recommend it: it is a piece of feminist genre fiction, a thriller, mostly told in a disconnected voice, a matter of mandative subjunctives and crisp reports on states of affairs. It appeared as a  a sequence of tweets on the New Yorker twitter account and holds its own, but it is rare.)

[to be continued]

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