[Paleopsych] CHE: Desks, and How Writers Treat Them
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Tue Apr 19 14:11:12 UTC 2005
Desks, and How Writers Treat Them
The Chronicle of Higher Education, 5.3.11
By PETER MONAGHAN
Kevin R. Kopelson, professor of English at the University of Iowa
Writers form an accord with their work space that suits them: Some
choose obsessive tidiness, others overwhelming clutter, says Mr.
Kopelson in Neatness Counts: Essays on the Writer's Desk (University
of Minnesota Press).
Q. What prompted you to focus on neatness?
A. For me, thinking in print feels so chaotic that I need to create
order everywhere else around me, so as not to be distracted by any
physical disorder. But for others, writing is a process of creating a
literary order out of a mental chaos that requires the objective
correlative of a literally messy work space.
Q. Did you come to understand how slobs can get writing done?
A. I did. In fact, I forced myself to work at times in a mess, to try
to get a handle on that. To my surprise, I found that creating an
incredible mess around me could be very comforting. But I wasn't able
to infer any general rules concerning the connections and
disconnections between a creative writer's work space and the work
produced there, apart from, first, that literary writers tend to
reproduce primal comfort zones -- in my case, it's a treehouse; in
Proust's, it was a bed -- and, second, desks, like the studies that
contain them, are either organized or disorganized so as to minimize
Q. You say that the travel writer and novelist Bruce Chatwin's
relation to his work space was particularly interesting. Why?
A. He presented himself as somebody who could work only on the road
and not at any desk or even in any room. But, in fact, what he was was
somebody who had to work in an obsessively ordered space that was not
his own. He could not work in his own home -- he could only
appropriate rooms in friends' homes, and then obsessively arrange
Q. The playwright Tom Stoppard's relation to his desk seems somewhat
more metaphorical, doesn't it?
A. His imaginary, or metaphysical, desks seem -- to me, if not to him
-- to correspond to the dramatic stage. Both are flat surfaces gazed
down upon by either writers or audience members, at more or less the
same angles. That kind of literal metaphor made everything crystallize
for me. ... The way he fantasizes desks and work spaces would seem to
me more important than the way he actually works.
Q. Last year Diana Fuss's "The Sense of an Interior: 4 Writers and the
Rooms That Shaped Them" (Routledge) appeared. Is there a growing
awareness of this issue?
A. Yes, and that's a wonderful companion volume to my book, treating
as it does many of the same issues and one of the same authors
-- Proust. The books really are about the poetics of work space.
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