[Paleopsych] CHE: Desks, and How Writers Treat Them

Premise Checker checker at panix.com
Tue Apr 19 14:11:12 UTC 2005

Desks, and How Writers Treat Them
The Chronicle of Higher Education, 5.3.11


    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.

More information about the paleopsych mailing list