“a story that didn’t go back or forward but went in.”
Slowly processing Saturday’s Long Relay internet writing event, though I think it may take some time to untangle in my head. I was really pleased with the rich mix and inventiveness of the work, and with the strange drift of the text through the 24 hours.
One thing I liked very much, was the sense of fiction more or less blossoming (not quite the right word) as different writers turned their attention in different directions. Like Tom’s intensive magnification of the first part of the story, or Deborah’s conjuring up a fragment of plot about the girl, who’d been more or less ‘undeveloped’ prior to that. It reminded me of that old Phillip K. Dick (?) /paranoid idea of a world in which nothing exists unless you decide to go look at it; that some mysterious ‘they’ are busy constructing building bits of the world in time for you to go see them.. An idea that crops up explicitly in Peter Weir’s The Truman Show. I somehow had a similar feeling watching the original text expand, contract and transform through the long hours.
What I liked most though was the liveness, the unfolding of it all. There was something very beautiful watching the document change each time the page reloaded as different writers were working. Shame it wasn’t changing keystroke by keystroke as we had originally hoped, but the jumps – a sentence here, a few words there, the occasional paragraph here – were always great to see; incomplete moves, signs of another person working on the text, a person starting to move things around. Also a strong sense at times of the text as a living thing; growing, shifting as an object on the screen.
Connected to this, in watching from long distance as other people worked on the project in the stuttering real-time of its updates, there was always for me a sense of working-out, guessing or anticipating which way they were headed. These were moments of ‘oh I see where she is going’ or ‘I get it, I see what this is going to be’ – predictions that were sometimes right, sometimes not. I guess in that sense the project succeeded for me – in showing writing as a process, as an unfolding set of decisions. I loved the sense of something materialising (a view, a take on things), and of seeing someone else (via their emerging take on it) slowly made manifest. A kind of dramaturgical staging of sensibility. I’m still struck by the act of Tom slowly adding his initial notes, annotating/commenting on my text, flagging things he’d use, things he’d want to get rid of – musing to himself about it, how it might work, or what it all might want to be. It reminded me a lot of notes I’ve written to myself whilst working on things. And I also remember watching mesmerised as Shelley was working; pasting in new paragraphs from previous versions of the text and then slowly scalpeling into them, shifting the words, adding things and taking away to make something new. There was something really sculptural about that.. And the results were beautiful.
Perhaps most frustrating to me was the feeling of the fiction in the end trapped in itself, in its own exoskeleton or in its own initial footprint, a feeling of growing confinement, an inability (somehow) in the system or game of it to make new space, to expand, to breathe or walk in some other direction. Tom’s focus on the start, Mike’s story – a very smart and delicate shifting the timeframe and looking back on a transformed version of the supposed incidents, or Deborah’s shift to the female character – were all useful attempts to do this, as was Adrian’s great final move of writing the ‘protagonist’ as a ghost. Shelley, Simon and Fiona, in their inventive and assertive foldings back on the writing and on its process, also opened the text of course, finding new things in its tangled tracks and traces. There is perhaps a limit to the amount of energy in the system though. As if the serial/relay calls essentially for an integrity of relation; for a certain level of continuity. And as though the time frame in the project, of both individual and collective duration, is maybe too small for it to travel to a radically different place without threatening total disconnection. Even knowing this though, (wanting my cake and wanting to eat it too) I could have taken more change somehow, or more space and more air, and would be interested to find a structure that encouraged this.
I’m certainly left curious about what the project might be like with a different balance or emphasis in the rules. And I’m wondering now if starting from a complete narrative by me was such a smart idea. Perhaps something more open or skeletal might have been better, or something that (somehow) more invited difference by way of response. I’m not sure for the moment what this would mean – but I’m guessing that Adrian and I will go back around the project several times in discussions now, trying to figure what the next move or incarnation of it might be.