I don’t know if you want to be written
What might it mean to think of writing as monstrous? Or the act of writing as the act of creating a monster? Like the weird scientist in the lab. Like Frankenstein chasing his creation across the Arctic after rejecting it.
I am not sure I like you
In the workshop ‘Monster Writing’, which was held in November 2019 at ETHOSLab, the IT University of Copenhagen, we explored text as something somewhat monstrous. Drawing on Nina Lykke’s exorcise of ‘writing the posthuman’ – in which she suggests that the writer addresses the object of their writing as a ‘you’ directly in the text – we wanted to experiment with what it might be like to address the text itself in this way, as a you, but out loud. A summoning. We therefore asked the participants of the workshop to bring a text that they were somehow not completely happy with. In the invitation we wrote:
We will also collaborate on creating something – something different from both old and new texts. So don’t forget to bring a text or a draft that you have written, but have stuck away in drawers, are anxious about or just don’t want to confront.
We all introduced our texts by addressing them in the first person: “You are.” The aim was to tap into an experience we (the organizers) often have as writers, but which can be difficult to articulate: that texts are actors that have their own agencies, and[i] that we have relationships with our texts, often complicated ones. Taking this up and building on it, seemingly in a spontaneous moment of relating, one of the participants of the workshop began her introduction by greeting her text with a “hello” before moving on to the description: “Hello text, you are…” The participants followed her, greeting their texts before their introductions.
I often feel divorced from my writing, embarrassed by it, kept from writing, unable to write when I want to. I sometimes blame busyness. It’s a bittersweet state to be too busy to write; frustrating, but I also can’t deny how nice it is to be distracted. Sometimes I think it is healthy for me to be busy doing other things than writing. But perhaps what I really mean is that I yearn to keep myself from confronting what I have written, for I cannot always face the idea of sitting with my text longer stretches of time. Especially after it’s been written. I’m often excited by the process of writing, caught up in the creativity of it and feeling inspired to write more, create more. But just as often, when the writing is done and I sit back and observe what I have created, I am ambivalent. When I show it to others I can easily become embarrassed, want to hide it away so that others do not see it. It’s after my fingers have stopped writing on the keyboard that I see that my writing has become strangely different than what I had thought it would be, hoped it would be. I have created it but I turn away from it.
To me, the process of addressing the text as monster has to do with attempting to change or at least slightly alter my relation with the things I create. Rather than seeing myself in the text, what we came to think of as the ‘hello text’-exorcise[ii] helped me see the other in the text. Something unintended and something not-me. Something I had a responsibility towards. Even as – or especially as – I recoiled in shame at the sight of my creation.
What can this small act of speaking the text into existence, of acknowledging it as an actor to be greeted, tell us about the relationship between text and author, creator and creature, about text and agency?
I’m not sure what to say.
Writing is not a seamless process. In academia, this can be frustrating, since that is typically how we are taught to write: as an afterthought, a means of communicating knowledge that is imagined as wholly different from the medium itself. First you do your research, then you communicate it through writing. But writing is rarely this static. And the process of writing opens us up to surprises, as text forms what is simultaneously me and not me. As such, it takes on an identity that may partly stem from me but which is also very much not me, and also never wholly other. Perhaps text is abject? Perhaps text is a monster? If so, what would you say to it when it returns – whether in hidden documents suddenly re-revealed or in words and phrases deleted from previous versions, now come back to haunt you? The ghosts of texts cut up to make others? The text is not seamless, but stitched together from fragments[iii], from stolen body parts, half-remembered. What stares back at us from out of the text is not one thing, and it is never wholly strange.
The addresses to the texts took the shape of stories in and of themselves. Stories about how we relate to the monsters we create. About regrets and anxieties. Questions about whether this particular monster could survive. Whether it needed a different form to thrive. What period of time it came from. The space in which the first words appeared. Emotions of shame, unhappiness, uncertainty, guilt, excitement.
What is monster writing?
After the round, we cut our texts into pieces, and shared them with the others, creating individual collages in which we tried to rewrite our own, original text using the words of other creator’s monsters. The monster returned in different guises, never fully deleted.
After addressing my own text, telling it how horrible I found it, I turned to a colleague and said: I’m so happy it cannot respond. But I’m no longer so certain that it did not.
[i] Brewis and Williams (2019) theorize writing as skin. They understand skin, and writing as skin, as an “adaptable, resistant organism that permits absorption, diffusion, permeability and rupture” (90). Writing involves touching, moving,
writing is fingers touching keyboards
skin moving across
bodies moving in space
me hoping to
[ii] We keep writing ‘exorcise’ where we should have written ‘exercise’. Or maybe we shouldn’t have written that latter word, maybe it was right all along to fall into thinking on the exorcist. What remains is that we cannot stop thinking and unconsciously writing about the relationship between exercise and exorcism. Perhaps the two are more connected than we thought.
[iii] We wanted to write about the workshop, about the exorcises, and about the monsters we created using the same method of mostermaking we explored there. This text is a collage, stitched together from text-pieces by Katrine Meldgaard Kjær and Line Henriksen.
December is Monster Writing Month at The Monster Network! We will bring three blog posts that each engage with the interconnections between writing and the monstrous, between creature and created, between words and worlds. Exploring writing as an un/lively process, and text as something that always escapes the control and intent of the author, Monster Writing Month asks what kind of creatures the writer summons – and what creatures summons the writer.