Monday, July 28, 2008

unsystematic searching...

..."that was the plan. but then as you walk along, you find things. i think that's the advantage of walking. it's just one of the reasons why i do that a lot. you find things by the wayside or you buy a brochure written by a local historian, which is in a tiny museum somewhere, which you would never find in london. and in that you find odd details which lead you somewhere else, and so it's a form of unsystematic serching, which of course for an academic is far from orthodoxy, because we're meant to do things systematically.

but i never like doing things systematically. not even my ph.d. research was done systematically. it was always done in a random, haphazard fashion. and the more i got on, the more i felt that, really one can find something only in that way in which, say, a dog runs through a field. if you look at a dog following his nose, he traverses a patch of land in a completely unplottable manner. and he invariably finds what he's looking for. i think that, as i've always had dogs, i've learned from them how to do this. [audience laughter] and so you then have a small amount of material, and you accumulate things, and it grows; one thing takes you to another, and you make something out of these haphazardly assembled materials. and, as they have been assembled in this random fashion, you have to strain your imagination in order to create a connection between the two things. if you look for things that are like the things that you have looked for before, then, obviously, they'll connect up. but they'll only connect up in an obvious sort of way, which actually isn't, in terms of writing, something new, very productive. so you have to take heterogeneous materials in order to get your mind to do something that it hasn't been done before. that's how i thought about it. then, of course, curiosity gets the better of you"...

from an interview with w.g. sebald from 'the emergence of memory', 2007. i'm grateful to the recommender of this book to me, because of how sebald talks about inspiration, and here about the gathering of material before the writing starts. this kind of wandering that allows one to find connections in things discovered in a much more random way - as though these objects come to you, rather than you to them; seems opposed to the precise nature of writing, and in the interview sebald says the writing is the worst part, the least fun, while the research and gathering is the good part.

his path is guided by intuition, and reminds me a little of what i wrote about a few months ago regarding the photo of the toy trains and a sculpture for my last show, and how the photograph worked on me even after i had stopped 'thinking' about it. for sebald it is the city streets, small museums, etc. for me it is continually the flea markets, because i tend to respond to old things; but inspiration always feels stronger when it sneaks up on you than when it bonks you over the head.

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Blogger Rob Mullender said...

thanks for this. this relates directly to my feelings about second-hand book shops, and how you can find amazing stuff which you would never even have thought of looking for in a library or online catalogue. i have a wonderful book called 'the phylogenesis of the ear' which sits in this category. i didn't know the word existed before i found the book in a nearby shop by accident...

3:07 PM  
Blogger Woolgathersome said...

I think this can happen in libraries, too... (It does all the time for me). Wandering through the stacks without a call number or title in mind and being drawn to a book on the shelf for whatever reason (the binding, the title, the date, the shape, or because it sits among all the other books on crystallography)... There are all sorts of ways to stumble upon the unlooked for in wonderful old research libraries!

10:21 AM  

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