Writing Inside the Box
Published: May 10, 2005
Over at the Flux Factory, an artists’ collective in Long Island City, three fiction writers have agreed to isolate themselves in small writing cells for a project called “Novel: A Living Installation.” Each has promised to finish a novel by June 4. That is 25 days away. Odds are that these will either be teeny-tiny novels or very bad ones.
The writers will not be on public display, except for limited viewing hours. Still, the whole thing calls to mind the great Monty Python sketch in which Thomas Hardy writes a novel in front of a crowd in Dorchester. The spectators go wild and the commentators comment, yet Hardy reposes in the tranquillity of a writer’s concentration, sure of his own purpose.
The writers at the Flux Factory have their own purposes, too, quite apart from the larger purpose of the installation. That is the puzzle of this piece of art. The more seriously the writers take the proper business of making their own work, the more the installation trivializes the nature of writing. It’s certainly possible to write in public. It’s even possible to write on a tight deadline in public and to do so when you know people are watching you. But part of the meaning of making a novel is commanding the time to do so and owning the workings of imagination, however they pace themselves.
The originator of this project said the idea had come to him when he had imagined locking himself into a closed space and finishing his dissertation on Walter Benjamin. That would have been a good idea. The air would have been thick with self-reference. But one has to hope that in a week or two, these writers will burst from their cubicles, repudiate their deadlines and return to the world in which literature is really made.