11/11/2007

pCARL is born! No, not an indecent sex act! A writing project!

So, recently, as in, my last post, I developed a lengthy and polemic rant against the National Novel Writing Month. Many strange avenues of argument were followed, and some personal issues laid bare. But, the criticism was largely not on the constructive side.

However, in a change from my typical style of "lambaste 'em and leave 'em", I am going to start making this a personal mission. I am actually going to "follow thorough", rather than sardonically sit back with folded arms. Through some brainstorming with Tom and Megan (you can see my conversation with Tom in the comments section of the last post) I have given birth to an illegitimate, monstrous, and most likely short-lived offspring. What is this placenta-wet son of Cain? Let me be the first to introduce you to:

The Pseudo-Creative Annual Ritual for Literature
henceforth to be known as pCARL, until a better name with a better acronym can be developed.

Questions That Might be Asked Often 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.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Your get-up-and-go-for-broke-don't fixin-to-die-rag is an inspiration, Adam. I'm on board for the sake of art. However, I have no time to think about my assignment and instead must constrain myself to rewrite На Дрини Ћуприја (or, for those of us who don't read Cyrillic -- don't worry Megan I'm not getting pedantic on you, I would only do that about guitar players -- "Na Drini Ćuprija"). For those rest of us to whom a certain Hell's Kitchen server girl has assigned us heavy-duty reading by Yugosalvian Nobel laureate Ivo Andric (1892-1975), this sort of project will work out just write. I'm eager in fact to read, The Bridge on the Drina.

pCARL sounds likes P-Card (a purchasing program where I work) or like it should have a "Jean-Luc" in front of it, or like, indeed, a command given to some unfortunate s&m devotee.

Good luck!

Beyla said...

This is great info to know.