Friday, November 16, 2007

pCARL Journal #1

"where the wolves are killed off, the foxes increase..."

Hello, fellow pCARLers, random guests, and people searching for pictures of wolves!

I've decided that as a means of keeping pCARL going, and to possibly provide support for those also endevoring, and to possibly befuddle the random readerby, I will be logging a journal of sorts as I begin to pCARL The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade by Herman Melville. That way, there is some proof that this wasn't just an idea I wantonly birthed into the internet, but a project I am doing, albeit slowly.

If you are also doing a pCARL, and would like to share your experiences, completed or partial, do feel free to upload! We might be able to even work out a guest spot! A good number of people expressed interest to me in doing one, whether they actually get on board or not. So let's hear about it, folks.

Well, in my first foray into re-writing, I learned some interesting lessons.


it will probably take me a lot longer than I thought. The ability to maintain interest in doing this dies after a few pages. The last thing I want to make this into is a chore, so I'm just going to let my interest guide me. Maybe I will quit after a week or two, but we'll see.


Format. Although I thought it would be a lot of fun to write the book up on our manual typewriter, I scrapped this idea because of the paper it would waste. I decided to save a tree, and do it on the computer, thereby killing salmon, because here in the northwest we get all our power from the nature concentration camps they call hydroelectric power.

Also a question of format: deciding from what source to get Melville's book. I have my own copy, which was the original one I read. However, there are many footnotes by the editor in this version, and I thought I would like to at least start from a "pure" copy. Since there was a copy available on Project Gutenberg (a fantastic site by the way, that probably deserves its own lauditory blog post) I decided to use that. Even more supporting this choice is the fact that then I can keep the window viewing the text open right next to the window where I am typing. This prevents me having to type with one hand, or break the spine of the book.


One of the very first things I noticed upon beginning the actual re-writing was that it takes some care to keep this from becoming merely a typing lesson. It immediately felt like a typing test; I was trying to fly through the text as fast as possible, looking only what I was reading, and not what I was writing. To do otherwise makes the process take a lot longer, but is much more rewarding. To actually see Melville's words coming out of my cursor, I got a more feeling of "owning" the text, having it pass through me as I transcribed it, rather than it being a "spinal" reflex of sorts. This is what I think will take the most effort and concentration throughout this project--at least, as noted so far. I will definitely keep you up to date as I work on this issue, letting you know what helps and what doesn't.

All told, I got through four pages in my first machinations. Not so far you say? On the contrary! Look at some of the great lines I wrote! This first quotation at the top of this post, for example: my favorite line I re-wrote. Or, how about this one:

"Illy pleased with his pertinacity, as they thought it, the crowd a second time thrust him aside, and not without epithets and some buffets, all of which were unresented."

Whoa! You don't even need to know to what it is referring, just look at it! Some excellent alliteration and rhymes, a couple of oddly used negatives ("illy pleased" and "unresented") and one independent clause flanked by two dependent clauses on each side. What a sentence, eh? I'm pleased I re-wrote it!

Also, I made one change, only of one word, but that will have great ramifications throughout the rest of the book. The impact will be thematic, and metaphysical to the text, and will play an important part in my Introduction. But I won't tell you what it is yet! You will just have to wait and see.

Well, that's it for now, but what a start it was. Be sure to check back for what happens next, in pCARL 2007!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Pseudo-Creative Annual Ritual for Literature

[Henceforth to be known as pCARL, until a better name with a better acronym can be developed.]

What is this placenta-wet son of Cain? Let me be the first to introduce you.

Questions That Might be Asked Often in order to Elucidate this Strange Thing:

What is pCARL?

- pCARL is a sarcastic response to National Novel Writing Month (and the according acronym that will not be named). pCARL is a project that is pretentious, largely tongue-in-cheek, and yet still completely and utterly serious about helping people improve their writing by an actual appreciation for literature rather than a self-indulgent leap into basic literacy.

What is the motivation for this self-righteous act that mocks the creativity of others?

- National Novel Writing Month is based around the idea that a method for instigating the art of writing is the sheer propagation of quantity. The FAQ says that without the challenge of the deadline and the ritualistic group aspect, many of the participants would not put pen/cursor to paper/screen at all, and therefore any writing is good writing. The 50,000 word limit is also one of the most steadfast rules, celebrating an arbitrary length of symbols as the quantifier for the completion of the task.
Here at pCARL, we take a different approach. In a country with a near-perfect literacy rate and yet such an abundance of mediocre-at-best literary output (tell-all books, popular histories, fan fiction, and gimmicky series being some of the most widely-selling printed material, not to mention the rise of the magazine in place of actual prose) it seems straight-up detrimental to praise the cancerous metastasis of malignant words as actual creativity! It is as a plague to the art of prose! It is a insult to iambic pentameter! It is deleterious to every literary device we praise and enjoy! The day that the sheer abundance of words is treated as actual literary output is the day the public library is absorbed by the department of motor vehicles, and by the muses, we will not stand by and see authorship reduced to a mass of bureaucracy!

So, what are we actually talking about?

-As noted by Tom, one learns to play a musical instrument by learning classic tunes. There is a reason that classics stand the test of time, and by practicing the basics we learn to create new art on our own. Artists take pencil and paper to the museum, the budding guitarist buys a book of Led Zepplin or Bob Dylan tabulature, and craftsmen make a simple chair before constructing an ornate sideboard. Authors begin by reading. But in the journey towards creative output, and making paper actually accumulate weight, the writer often puts down the library card in favor of a pen.
Not so fast! No one is too old to learn from the likes of Marlowe, Gogol, or Woolf. There are too many classic works of literature for us ever to absorb the lessons of them all; however, this is no reason not to try. No amount of newly penned work could erase the weight of all that has come before; the creative process must always look backward, as it also looks forward. Otherwise, we will look up one day and find ourselves in a desert of Newspeak: our language would not even familiar to ourselves, because it has lost the long history of evolution by which meaning is passed into symbol, and by which stories are told. Amid sound and fury it may still signify, but the long life that is its power is diminished. Whether told by and idiot or an ideologue, true literature is not the author's own language s/he is uttering, but the language of all of us, of all humans, of Homer, as much as Chaucer, as much as Shelley, as much as Dickens, as much as Pynchon...

Will you get to the point, jerk?

-During the month of November, we will each re-write a great work of literature. The goal is to learn the lessons of language that have already been inscribed in classic texts, and thereby to reanimate the creativity inherent in great writing by learning from it, word by word, sentence by sentence, from "beginning" to "end". It is a close reading, a writing exercise, an act of homage, and a way to while the hours til death claims us all. The work of literature to be re-written may be anything literary, that is defensible as such in the Introduction to the Re-Writing. Length of the work chosen may be any number of words or other quantitative markers, but it is cautioned that the goal is to learn something, and as practice makes perfect, repetition makes renewal. Therefore, pick a length of work that will not be too easy, but not be an insurmountable task. Too short, and the lesson of the literature may be missed. Too long, and one may not follow through. The work chosen is the participant's choice for a reason, so choose carefully for yourself.
Note: The re-writing does not necessarily have to be "word for word". However, it is a re-writing, and not an adaptation. The finished product will be labeled: "the title of the work, by the original author, edited by the participant."

What did you mean by "Introduction to the Re-Writing"?

There will be an original Introduction to the Re-Writing written by the re-writer, just before the beginning of the re-written text. This may consist of anything, but should justify the task and the re-written text as the participant justified it to him/herself, to set the context for anyone examining the newly re-written text, under the new appended label. If there are differences between the original text and the re-written version, we suggest that you think seriously about what the differences may signify, and how the work of literature changes, and include mention of these reflections in the Introduction. What can be learned from the original, the new, and the comparison between them upon the reading of the text? One way to study any differences may be to note the re-writing changes with a note of some sort, as is common in newly edited editions of classic works. But all of this is up to the participant, as the person conducting the lesson for him/herself. The only rule is that there must be an Introduction.

Are you freakin' serious?

-Well, not generally, but regarding pCARL, yes. While we may not subscribe to the idea that there is never anything new under the sun, we definitely feel that there is a building of culture, that there is a sediment of creative human output that builds upon itself. How could we consider ourselves adding to it unless we study what is already there? A close reading as a personal course of study and reflection is one way to take on the weight of culture. And besides, it could be fun! What student of literature hasn't wished that s/he was able to write Gulliver's Travels, or Beowulf, or Naked Lunch, or The Bible? Now you can! And you will certainly walk away with a heightened appreciation for the text that you didn't have before, no matter how many times you had read it in the past.

So, what are you going to re-write?

-I think, but have not quite decided, on re-writing The Confidence-Man by Herman Melville. I just read it, would like to read it again, and fell in love with Melville as a writer through the work. It is also available in the Project Gutenberg, which means that no one owns the copyright. I think that this could only help, in case I decide that I want to publish my re-writing on the internet or something. Megan has loosely committed to re-writing The Gambler by Dostoevsky, as long as she can do it in Russian. Another reason to participate in pCARL! Foreign language books are totally in, and this could help you brush up on your second, third, or ninth language. You could even translate something if you want! Translating is certainly an homage to a work of literature, and a decent exercise in writing, and an art all of its own.

How do I get involved?

-Re-write a book! Conduct a Pseudo-Creative Annual Ritual for Literature! If you like, spread the word about it to your literary friends, and let us know your results! Even if you only get halfway, you are halfway through. No need for an half empty/full glass here, there is no such thing as empty words!

Now go, get to the library, and re-write for literature!
Silly, perhaps. Pretentious, yes. But we're going with it. Happy literature to you.

Ritualistic Behavior

Behold, the birth of pCARL, a new Interdome Project!

Standby for transmission...