20 Lines a Day
by Harry Mathews
Dalkey Archive Press, 1988
134 pages / $10.95 buy from Dalkey
1. In the fifth floor of the library, I picked the book up, read what the premise was, and thought resentfully, “What a bunch of bullshit, this looks boring, look how anything gets published.” I didn’t know who Harry Mathews was yet. Years ago.
2. “You never have earned the right to sit at the table and let someone else clear away the dishes. No accumulation of knowledge can guarantee that you aren’t a fool. The roast is over-cooked. You slice bread for the seven-hundredth time and cut off the tip of your left forefinger. You touch her as coarsely as any boor, being now the boor. You meet an old friend, you have forgotten his name, you cannot look him in the face: not looking him in the face, you wound him and you start lying to him and to yourself. Go off and sulk and complain and explain why it happened. It won’t help. Instead, be an actor, or an athlete, on stage, on the field, giving–as you once eagerly proposed to yourself–everything to the perishable act.”
3. “I have nothing to write in particular, I’m writing these lines because of my rule that I must write them.”
4. Some writers set quotas, others set routines, some set both, and some (the scriptomanic ones for whom procrastination is not a threat) set neither. A page a day (Paul Theroux); 50,000 words in a month (NaNoWriMo); two hours every morning (W.S. Maugham); 20 minute blocks (Cory Doctorow); at least a sentence a day (W.G. Sebald); pre-dawn (Paul Valéry, Jacques Roubaud); etc.
5. “Whatever I write tells my story without my knowing it.”
6. “Let no thought pass incognito, and keep your notebook as strictly as the authorities keep their register of aliens.” (Walter Benjamin, “One Way Street,” Reflections)
7. “Sometimes the ultimate message is in fact received. It reads, more or less: ‘Your ligament issues from a spa that is given various narcissisms at various time-tables: lozenge, credulity, goggles. And not only your ligament (and that of others): the prodigy that generates mayday has the same orthography. You and the upkeep are one. Give up sugarbowls.’ At such moments you realize, and you remember, that such messages have never been lacking, and that they are all the same, and that the problem (if that is the word) doesn’t involve receiving but deciphering what is received again and again, day after day, minute after minute.”
8. There’s an implicit link between 20 Lines a Day and the next novel Mathews would publish, The Journalist (1994). One sees how the method Mathews followed for 20 Lines is adopted as a fictional premise and device for The Journalist.
9. “Anxiety about writing feels like: I am poor in words, ideas, and feelings, and when I sit down to write, this poverty will be revealed.”
10. “The table is a beautiful thing. The writing board is supported on a base consisting of two tubular legs shaped like narrow inverted U’s, with a tubular foot running across the mouth of each U, projecting about thirty centimeters beyond it on either side. The legs are connected to the board by an adjustable parallelogram made of bone-shaped pieces of flat metal. The knobs of the bones are pierced with pivotal studs that hold the sides of the parallelogram together. Two strong springs, to hold the angles in place, maintain pressure against two other springs fixed just below the board. A single lever controls this disposition and locks the board in place. Changing the angles of the parallelogram permits one to alter both the height and angle of the board in one movement. Board, parallelogram, legs and feet are white; springs, studs, and lever handle are black.” READ MORE >
October 25th, 2012 / 9:09 am