Sunday, January 13, 2008

Ways of Working

Saturday morning I was lounging around the living room, looking after Is., and flipping channels on the television for a few minutes, when I stopped on C-SPAN2's Book TV. They were running a three-hour interview with Nell Irvin Painter, the historian who wrote, among other things, Standing At Armageddon, a book I read a few years ago during coursework.

I don't watch much Book TV, it turns out, so I don't know whether it is typical for them to break from the interviews to give quick little documentary segments on the processual nuances for the featured writer. But they did so for Painter, and it happened to come at the very moment when I was checking out the program. The up-close look at the way Painter works comes between 1:01:18 and 1:15:16 if you are inclined to check it out via the Real Media file provided by CSPAN.

Painter talks about the way her meandering process picks up late in the day. She talks about how she creates, names, and saves her computer files (a new one for each day, recently), how kayaking "helps" as part of her methodology, how she writes in books she owns, and how she senses that her home in the Adirondacks affords greater concentration. There is more: on her dissertation, on cut and paste, on her use of a thesaurus, on working with editors through revisions, on Row ("Roe"?), the friendly cat who crashes the interview, and on how she keeps her library. It is a fifteen-minute segment with a long list of writerly insights; Painter begins by saying, "I would not recommend my way of working to others." Who would?

I was also interested in the moment when she talks about how she reads books, how she develops personal indexes on a separate sheet of paper. Productive, indexical thinking is something I have tried to make more tangible for students in recent semesters. I like to hear people talk about it, and, in fact, even though Painter's way of working seems like what you would expect of a historian academic (i.e., there is nothing shocking here), I wish we had more documentary segments like this. Fifteen minutes on how I work (most of the time): I'd love to see these for a long list of people. Maybe I am alone in this fascination.

Whether or not I am, it suggests to me an alternative the longer, multi-voiced documentaries of composition we have seen recently in Take 20 (emph. pedagogy) and Remembering Composition (emph. digitality). And I understand the slim chance of seeing documentary film (or video) shorts become a more regular feature of any journal (whether online or distributed as DVD with the paper copy)--low odds because its dissymmetry with ten(ur)able scholarship at many institutions. Without loosening the lid on that argument, this is just to say that I'd like to see more of it--more writerly documentaries, that is.

Bookmark and Share Posted by at January 13, 2008 2:35 PM to Methods