What places make of us
Tangles and threads

The spaces we create with words

Tilly beneath the old oak

"A kind of writing solely meant for a public forum," said Harold Brodkey, "is often less interesting than writing where the writer has invented the public space inside the text, in the tone of address, in the tone of the language -- where the address is new and as if in private. Public language is never new. But in good writing there is something absolutely new in the tone. There’s a very complicated idea that lies behind the notion of the public space in which the narrator addresses the reader. It’s an idea that has to do with language being actual, being temporal and spatial, to be Kantian about it. In a piece of writing the language runs along on the page and in the mind of a reader; in that language is no actual physical space, but it should carry the implication of a physical-social location.

Limbs and leaves

"If you’ve been to a large Edwardian house," Brodkey continues, "you may have seen a small room with a fireplace and a couch, and perhaps two chairs -- not a formal, large room where you can carry on, but one where you can sit and talk. It’s where you gossip. Henry James has a tone of address as if he’s arrived at such a large house, not his own, and he is seated by the fire; an invisible interlocutor or audience listens closely. Walt Whitman speaks outdoors it seems to me. The space Whitman suggests is complex and American and I think beautiful and a completely new invention. One thing that is unique about it is that there’s no tinge of social class in it whatsoever.

"Jane Austen’s writing suggests a drawing room sort of space; Hemingway’s, on a bar stool or in a club car -- it changes, he’s complicated. Emily Dickinson creates a marvelous public space, too, and one of the marvelous things about it is that it is so clearly an invention since it isn’t based on being public; it is without a sense of the public. D. H. Lawrence is an absolutely amazing writer, with a fantastic sense of the language, but his sense of public space wavers, and sometimes a whole book or long story of his will collapse when he shifts the public space thing too drastically and is churchly-fascistic, or starts yelling as if in a corral, then muttering in a hallway . . . No order in it at all."

Tilly, notebooks, oak

I want to create a public space in my writing that looks something like this: sun-dappled grass beneath a fairy tale oak...with a flash of modern steel running behind it.

Or else one consisting of mis-matched chairs gathered 'round the kitchen table in an old country house, the pearly light of dawn streaming in, coffee freshly poured, and a black dog dozing by the hearth.

Notebooks in the grass

What would you like the public space created by your writing or art to look like...?