January 1, 2007
I believe that literature speaks to us in whispers of architectural insight. In contrast to the shouts of a design world that boldly fans the flames of fashion in a critical language continually reinvented for its own entertainment, the voices of poets, fiction writers and essayists reverberate across decades and even centuries from one author to the next, in unconscious dialogues devoted partly to images and concepts of physical space. Each month at this site I will construct one such of these quiet conversations, beginning with a single quotation and following that voice to other voices, to the roots of English, and to some unassuming rooms and streets around the world.
These texts tend not to depend upon novelty; the best of literature surprises us not with something entirely original, but rather with a crafted view of the familiar, one that casts new light on old stuff. Poets do this most obviously, but writers of fiction and non-fiction as well spin the threads of everyday life and everyday space into a web of potential discovery, at once elusive and precise, both ephemera and object. The Indo-European root of the word “poem” is 'kwoiwo' meaning ‘to make”, and evolved in Sanskrit to the word 'cinoti', meaning "heaping up, piling up.” Writers are builders, and the words of literature form an alternate architecture as rich in aesthetic substance as the one we build of concrete and stone, and full of lessons for us if we listen.
Not so much essays as long breaths along a single line of thought, along even just a single word that suggests one of the complex dimensions of human space, I offer these monthly musings as an encouragement to read more variously, to notice what is subtle but exceptional, to feel the palpable stuff of the material world as brought forth through words shaped by those know their craft as surely as a mason knows his. But unlike the buildings we build, the spaces of literature have the virtues of lightness and economy; they are free of gravity and cost constraints; they accommodate endless habitation. They are without weight and without bottom.
“Every story is a travel story, a spatial practice,” writes Michel de Certeau. I hope that the sequence of these short writings will lead us, as in a series of segmented lines, on a journey from one station to another, with detours into the protean roots of ordinary words and the obscure dimensions of everyday space. It is a trip without a final destination, whose map, which is this site, will continue to evolve.