Seamstress and Narrative: Text, Sewing, and Narrative, by Olga Matich
The seamstress performs her work in time as she puts together parts that are patently spatial. If we assign the seamstress and her modern tool – the sewing machine – a symbolic role in the story in which she appears, together they can be said to produce the whirring motor of the plot, or a silent motor in the case of the seamstress sewing by hand.
[…] One way to think about the seamstress is to consider her the agent of narrative: her work is directly related to making whole disconnected parts. She stitches together pieces of fabric with the purpose of creating a meaningful whole, whether a beautiful new garment or fixing an old one. Although everyday culture and nineteenth century literature portray her work as menial, the language of stitching, weaving, and sewing informs many of the metaphors that we use to describe narrative: ‘narrative thread’, for example, is a common image in both Russian and English, with thread having become a web term as well. ‘Text’, which is etymologically linked to ‘textile’ (from the Latin ‘to weave’) reveals a connection between writing and weaving. In English, we speak of seamless narrative montage or stories that present a seamless narrative experience.
Vladislav Khodasevich and Marina Tsvetaeva use the double meaning of thread (nit’), seam (shov), and stitch (stezhok) – literal and metaphoric – in their poetry that links sewing and writing.
Ты показала мне без слов,
Как вышел хорошо и чисто
Тобою проведенный шов
По краю белого батиста.
А я подумал: жизнь моя,
Как нить, за Божьими перстами
По легкой ткани бытия
Бежит такими же стежками.
Khodasevich, “Bez slov” (Without Words, 1918)
(You showed me without words,
How well and pure
The seam you placed
Lies on the edge of white batiste.
And I thought: my life
Like a thread in God’s fingers
Runs with the same stitches
Over the woven fabric of being.)
Some Russian terms for writing poetry have stitching as a subtext. The noun “stroka,” meaning line of verse, is etymologically related to the verb “strochit’” (‘to stitch’), but it also means line of stitches. Tsvetaeva uses the double meaning of “stroka,” calling herself a day seamstress of lines (“Strok podennaia shveia”) in “Crawling Slugs of Days” (Dnei spolzaiushchie slizni).
From the Mapping Petersburg project headed by Olga Matich.
The significance of plot without conflict
In the West, plot is commonly thought to revolve around conflict: a confrontation between two or more elements, in which one ultimately dominates the other. The standard three- and five-act plot structures—which permeate Western media—have conflict written into their very foundations. A “problem” appears near the end of the first act; and, in the second act, the conflict generated by this problem takes center stage. Conflict is used to create reader involvement even by many post-modern writers, whose work otherwise defies traditional structure.
The necessity of conflict is preached as a kind of dogma by contemporary writers’ workshops and Internet “guides” to writing. A plot without conflict is considered dull; some even go so far as to call it impossible. This has influenced not only fiction, but writing in general—arguably even philosophy. Yet, is there any truth to this belief? Does plot necessarily hinge on conflict? No. Such claims are a product of the West’s insularity. For countless centuries, Chinese and Japanese writers have used a plot structure that does not have conflict “built in”, so to speak. Rather, it relies on exposition and contrast to generate interest. This structure is known as kishōtenketsu.
From Elements of Style, by Suzan Lori-Parks
the NEA hoopla
Overweight souther senators are easy targets. They too easily become focal points of all evil, allowing the arts community to WILLFULLY IGNORE our own bigotry, our own petty evils, our own intolerance which—evil senators or now—will be the death of the arts.
History is time that won’t quit.
If you’re one who writes sitting down, once before you die try dancing around as you write. It’s the old world way of getting to the deep shit.
A playwright should pack all five, all six—all 7 senses. The 6th helps you feel another’s pulse at great distances; the 7th sense is the sense of humor. Playwrights can come from the most difficult circumstances, but having a sense of humor is what happens when you “get out of the way.” It’s sorta Zen. Laughter is very powerful—it’s not a way of escaping anything but a way of arriving on scene. Think about laughter and what happens to your body—it’s almost the same thing that happens to you when you throw up.
action in the line
The action goes in the line of dialogue instead of always in a pissy set of parentheses. How the line should be delivered is contained in the line itself. Stage directions disappear. Dialogue becomes rich and strange. It’s an old idea. The Greeks did it and Shakespeare too, all over the place. Something to try at least once before you die.
People have asked me why I don’t put any sex in my plays. “The Great Hole of History”—like, duh.
Take a little time, a pause, a breather, make a transition.
Re-writing is much harder than just plain writing, but it feels much better when it’s done. Don’t be bullied into it, but be open.
Beware actors’ flattery, but take serious note of passages, action or phrases they’re unhappy with.
Hopefully you won’t be re-writing right up to tech week. So stop attending rehearsals in the second week, and then show up again for the last push. By this point everyone hates the director and thinks the show’s going to bomb, so you’re the hero from the good old days here to save the day.— From “A playwright’s guide to becoming a playwright,” by Douglas Maxwell.
AL Kennedy: Ten rules for writing fiction
1 Have humility. Older/more experienced/more convincing writers may offer rules and varieties of advice. Consider what they say. However, don’t automatically give them charge of your brain, or anything else – they might be bitter, twisted, burned-out, manipulative, or just not very like you.
2 Have more humility. Remember you don’t know the limits of your own abilities. Successful or not, if you keep pushing beyond yourself, you will enrich your own life – and maybe even please a few strangers.
3 Defend others. You can, of course, steal stories and attributes from family and friends, fill in filecards after lovemaking and so forth. It might be better to celebrate those you love – and love itself – by writing in such a way that everyone keeps their privacy and dignity intact.
4 Defend your work. Organisations, institutions and individuals will often think they know best about your work – especially if they are paying you. When you genuinely believe their decisions would damage your work – walk away. Run away. The money doesn’t matter that much.
5 Defend yourself. Find out what keeps you happy, motivated and creative.
6 Write. No amount of self-inflicted misery, altered states, black pullovers or being publicly obnoxious will ever add up to your being a writer. Writers write. On you go.
7 Read. As much as you can. As deeply and widely and nourishingly and irritatingly as you can. And the good things will make you remember them, so you won’t need to take notes.
8 Be without fear. This is impossible, but let the small fears drive your rewriting and set aside the large ones until they behave – then use them, maybe even write them. Too much fear and all you’ll get is silence.
9 Remember you love writing. It wouldn’t be worth it if you didn’t. If the love fades, do what you need to and get it back.
10 Remember writing doesn’t love you. It doesn’t care. Nevertheless, it can behave with remarkable generosity. Speak well of it, encourage others, pass it on.
Late in the 18th century, men’s fashion took a turn for the worse. The prudish, sexually repressed Victorian age threw a wet blanket over the Dionysian debauchery of the 17th century. The reign in France of Louis XIV, with his gloriously powdered face and wig, silk stockings of cardinal red, heels, and fine plumage of velvet, ribbons, and lace, would mark the zenith of aristocratic fashion. By the time the republicans executed Louis XVI, the flush of colors, fabrics, and accoutrements had already begun giving way to a darker, more muted palette. The Industrial Revolution changed the way people dressed, as mass-produced three-piece suits became more accessible. The bourgeois class ushered in a new paradigm where men were to be defined by their commitment to industry and work, not the elaborateness of their dress. Their sobriety was a direct rebuke of the excesses of the French aristocracy.
Prominent British psychologist J.C. Flugel, in his book, The Psychology of Clothes, called this moment the “Great Masculine Renunciation,” when men “abandoned their claim to be considered beautiful” and “henceforth aimed at being only useful.” The gender divide in fashion became more pronounced. Men had very important things on their minds, and could no longer concern themselves with the frivolity of fashion. Women—bored, empty, and vain creatures that they were—could distract themselves with bustles and crinoline like kittens chasing a ball of yarn. Fashion was cast as a narcissistic, superficial, and ultimately, female pursuit. Men, the story goes, had opted out.— From Alex Jung’s wonderful essay on masculinity and menswear, “Come As You Are” (via TMN)
In an article first published in 1986, Susan Sheridan puts forward an account of the relationship between masculinity, genre, nation and literary worth that it seems to me might still be at play in judgements about women and literary value. She argues that during the 1890s, and in subsequent accounts that cemented this period’s position in [Australia’s] literary history, critical discourse tended to mobilise the following set of oppositions:
independent and original vs conventional and derivative egalitarian and democratic vs class-bound and ‘aristocratic’ Australian nationalist vs British colonial vigour and action vs emotion outside (the bush or the city) vs inside (the domestic, the home)
Most relevant to recent debates is an added set of terms that, Sheridan suggests, ‘were especially salient at the turn of the century but which have by now formed a scarcely noticeable sediment of common sense about what constitutes literary value’:
realism vs romance vernacular or folk vs popular or commercial.
Sheridan argues here that a set of ideas that came to define what it meant to be distinctively Australian were defined in opposition to a set of values that were identified with femininity and that ideas about what constitutes literary value in Australia are also gendered in favour of realism and the vernacular (à la Lawson and Rudd) as opposed to popular romance (à la Praed and Cambridge). These are, of course, false dichotomies but they have been compelling in discussions of Australian literature ever since the turn of the twentieth century.
[…] In reprising these arguments about the fate of women in the Australian literary tradition, I don’t want to suggest a deliberate project on the part of any of the judges of Australian literary prizes to occlude women’s writing. Rather, I want to pose the question of how far, in the difficult decisions about the relative merit of books in the running for such prizes, this older association between masculinity, nationhood and genre comes into play, especially in the case of a prize so explicitly bounded by the nation as the Miles Franklin Award.— Julieanne Lamon, “Stella vs Miles: Women Writers and Literary Value in Australia,” (via Meanjin).
Without any landmarks to orientate them people could not find their way to where their houses had once been. ‘The whole geography of the area had completely changed - the topography nearly had changed - so you got lost,’ Ray Wilkie said. There was no sewerage or water, electricity or phones, which led to the loss of another set of bearings, a peculiarly modern predicament. As Hedley Beare put it, ‘When you’re without telephone, post office and all of those things, you’re actually standing alone in the universe.’
Pets suffered, alongside their owners. The day after the cyclone Barbara James, a journalist, found her cat - alive - in the washing machine, where it had waited for the storm to pass. Because of fears that hungry and traumatised dogs would form packs, they were shot - often without warning and in front of their owners. Wilkie describes a recurring scene around Darwin: ‘one day an officer came around, and there was an old dog in our place - he was a nice old fellow - and the [policeman] said: “You got a dog there?” and I said: “Yes. He’s not hurting any one”… Out he came and bang, that was it.’ Lawrie, in contrast, managed to get her puppy evacuated and hid her Boxer bitch so she’d survive. Pets, she reasoned, were important to rebuilding a society.— From Sophie Cunningham’s essay “Disappeared,” on the effects of Cyclone Tracy (via Griffith REVIEW 35: Surviving).
[The] notion of household products as psychological furniture is, when you think about it, a radical idea. When we give an account of how we got to where we are, we’re inclined to credit the philosophical over the physical, and the products of art over the products of commerce. In the list of sixties social heroes, there are musicians and poets and civil-rights activists and sports figures. Herzog’s implication is that such a high-minded list is incomplete. What, say, of Vidal Sassoon? In the same period … Sassoon made individualization the hallmark of the haircut, liberating women’s hair from the hair styles of the times-from, as McCracken puts it, those “preposterous bits of rococo shrubbery that took their substance from permanents, their form from rollers, and their rigidity from hair spray.” In the Herzogian world view, the reasons we might give to dismiss Sassoon’s revolution-that all he was dispensing was a haircut, that it took just half an hour, that it affects only the way you look, that you will need another like it in a month-are the very reasons that Sassoon is important. If a revolution is not accessible, tangible, and replicable, how on earth can it be a revolution?
"Because I’m worth it" and "Does she or doesn’t she?" were powerful, then, precisely because they were commercials, for commercials come with products attached, and products offer something that songs and poems and political movements and radical ideologies do not, which is an immediate and affordable means of transformation.— Malcolm Gladwell, “True Colors: Hair dye and the hidden history of postwar America,” The New Yorker, 1999.
Sonnet” literally means “little song.” The sonnet is a heile Welt, an intact world where everything is in sync, from the stars down to the tiniest mite on a blade of grass. And if the “true” sonnet reflects the music of the spheres, it then follows that any variation from the strictly Petrarchan or Shakespearean forms represents a world gone awry.
Or does it? Can’t form also be a talisman against disintegration? The sonnet defends itself against the vicissitudes of fortune by its charmed structure, its beautiful bubble. All the while, though, chaos is lurking outside the gate.— Rita Dove, from the foreword to Mother Love (via W. W. Norton: An Intact World)
Travel writing | ABC Radio National Book Show | Ramona Koval is joined by travel writer and editor Tom Swick and travel historian Richard White
- Ramona Koval: Tom, in your piece from the Columbia Journalism Review, it's an old piece from 2001, 'The Roads Not Taken', you talk about the travel section in some kinds of journalism, but there's a funny bit about the typical travel piece. Can you remember what you said about the kinds of things you find in a piece? And you almost could say fill in the dots, it doesn't actually matter where it's going to be, it's about someone and their marvellous travelling companion usually, isn't it.
- Tom Swick: Right, it's the writer and the companion and they're basically the only people you meet in the piece, and they always have a very nice time and they always are in picturesque places and they stay in very comely hotels and they always vow to return someday. It's kind of like living happily ever after, and there's never anything terribly real about it. You don't get a sense that they really experience the place in an authentic way.
- Ramona Koval: And the land is always a land of contrasts...
- Tom Swick: Yes, that's one of the biggest clichés of travel writing.