Copying

Fill the lacunae in your inspiration by tidily copying out what you have already written. Intuition will awaken in the process.

Walter Benjamin, “One-Way Street”

But this is pretty rare with a computer or a blog; you might as well just move on to the next blog entry instead. In the absence of automatic writing (the surrealist’s tool, made all the more simple by the speed at which most people can type), I don’t know of any people who actually copy out what they type on a computer, though transcribing from handwritten notes might half-count. I do edit with a pen and paper, marking up and crossing out before going back to the terminal and making the edits on the screen, because things that read well on a screen sometimes seem so awkward and angular on a thin page. I treasure these marked-up drafts because they are the only unique items that are created in the writing process, as visual documents as much as revisions of words, like a humble Humument (the thumbnails lead to the full-size pages if you click on the numbers–and you should!).

I have recopied writing on computer on occasion, but even then it was because I was so unsatisfied with the original that I wanted to rewrite every sentence, so “copying” hardly seems like an appropriate term. The act of recopying puts me into the rhythms of writing much more than the rhythms of reading, and the harmony of each word being slowly recreated along with the rattle of the keyboard invokes a very different aesthetic than the silent run of the eyes along the screen.

And, for a contradictory view, here’s Kenneth Goldsmith:

I am spending my 39th year practicing uncreativity. On Friday, September 1, 2000, I began retyping the day’s NEW YORK TIMES word for word, letter for letter, from the upper left hand corner to the lower right hand corner, page by page…When I reach 40, I hope to have cleansed myself of all creativity.

Automatic writing indeed.

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