A commonplace reader

Sometimes it’s easier and faster to fill a page by quoting from others.

The commonplace book is the annotated scrapbook, carefully collecting bits from other writers with just enough commentary and selection to make them your own. If these were written in this era you’d call it “curation”, though I can only think of that word in the context of “curated meats”, somewhat salty and dry and meant to be preserved for some time.

Anyway, the commonplace book. Why write your own words, when there are so many other good ones already written to quote from? As it is said, though no attribution is reliable,

Immature artists copy, great artists steal.

The artist steal from tonight is Brian Eno, in particular his Oblique Strategies, which I now have as three lines of shell script plus 128 lines of text. A sample, intended to be drawn at random:

Not building a wall but making a brick

As to brick-machines, this from Popular Science

Bricks are fairly easy to make, but in the developing world, traditional fired bricks are sometimes weak and crumble-prone, while cement ones are often unaffordable. The Vermeer BP714 is the first compressed-earth-block machine that makes strong air-dried bricks out of dirt. Its bricks don’t just exceed U.S. cement-code strength requirements—they’re 20 to 30 percent stronger, and cheaper than other machines’ too.

Of course that’s the story you want to tell when someone else has a lot of mud and you have a lot of machine.

The commonplace style of writing allows you to fill a page with text faster, since you’re cutting and pasting it in rather than sweating to find the exact words yourself. The downside is that you might sometimes have to hunt for the correct word, and it will be obvious that it’s someone else’s correct word. There is no question of plagiarism, just of assembly.

The serious crimes in terms of writing are that of plagiarism and copyright violation. (Reality Studio)

So long as we are going down this route, it’s worth rejecting plagiarism as a thought-crime. From Kenneth Goldsmith:

It seems an appropriate response to a new condition in writing: With an unprecedented amount of available text, our problem is not needing to write more of it; instead, we must learn to negotiate the vast quantity that exists. How I make my way through this thicket of information—how I manage it, parse it, organize and distribute it—is what distinguishes my writing from yours.

We make patchworks. Most two word phrases can be easily found on the Internet.

Most two-word phrases are not produced under unpleasant stress, but in interest or excitement. (Penelope Leach, “Babyhood”)

The important thing is to provide the reader with enough information so that the article can be easily found on the References page. (Communication Research Methods in Postmodern Culture)

Lists of real-world materials and their refractive indexes are easily found on the Internet. (Lanier, “Maya Studio Projects Texturing and Writing”)

Retroactively we can construct some level of patchwork that we can crib from, in interest or excitement.