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TEXT AS TOOLKIT A Practical Handbook

TEXT AS TOOLKIT proposes a methodology for reading and hence for writing. The purpose of this methodology is to identify and extract from texts certain metatextual tools that might be used to examine the practices and products of writing. Mining texts for their tools is a consciously interventional strategy that considers texts as provisional and active material participants in a cumulative art writing field. The seven specific tools in this handbook are offered as means to grip hold of the abstract and often indistinct relationships that exist between reading, writing, reader, writer and text. It is hoped that by offering diverse and generative grips on these relationships - and moreover by offering a methodology to develop other such grips - robust and raucous explorations of the field might be facilitated. The hope, finally, is that this handbook might function as a tool that renders itself increasingly obsolete. The first tool is the methodology itself:

TEXT AS TOOLKIT

Tamarin Norwood 2010

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TEXT AS TOOLKIT

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Imagine a text as a toolkit. You keep it handy and trawl through it whenever you’re working on something that’s got too fiddly, too tight or too difficult to grab hold of. It’s good for repairs and DIY too, that sort of thing. The toolkit doesn’t really do anything on its own - it’s just there to help you do things around the house - but it’s never quite that straightforward. Sometimes the tools you pick out have an effect on what you decide to do. Sometimes you get out all the tools one by one and test them on your scraps and off-cuts, and it turns out they cause you do things you never thought possible. The same thing happens when you’ve got a job in mind and you can’t find the proper tool for it. Without exception, eventually you find something else that’ll do the job just as well, even if it does it in an unexpected way and with one or two novel side-effects. You hold tools in ways they were never designed to be handled, you pick bits off them, bend them into new shapes, hit them with other tools, use them the wrong way round. You’re not really sure the tools were designed with use in mind. Maybe they were never really designed at all, just picked at and bent and hit and held the wrong way round. The tools are pretty strong and it’s impossible to break them altogether. Anything that snaps or buckles becomes a tool with a new shape, and you can just keep it in the toolkit until you work out what new manoeuvres it’s capable of.

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This initial methodological tool, TEXT AS TOOLKIT, might be tested out on any scrap or off-cut of text one has to hand. Given that any tool is bound to work in novel and unexpected ways, and moreover that any text is bound to yield unanticipated tools each capable of their own particular surprises, there is much to be said for selecting a text completely at random at any given moment. The text this handbook will use as a toolkit is ‘The Burrow’, a short story written in 1923 by Franz Kafka, though it could equally have used any other text, literary or otherwise. ‘The Burrow’ is a narrative told at close quarters by an earth-dwelling animal, mainly from inside the complex and accomplished burrow it has been first building and then maintaining throughout its adult life. Reading ‘The Burrow’ as a toolkit, one might choose to begin by extracting as a tool the animal’s continuous and cumulative practice of burrowing in the service of its accumulated burrow. One might notice an exchange between process and product (‘to burrow a burrow’) that obliquely recalls another exchange (‘to be writing writing’). One might follow one’s hunch and extract the figure of the burrow, and try it out as a tool to grip hold of the more ephemeral figure of the writer’s field. ‘through scratching and biting, battering and banging, I have reclaimed [my burrow] from the obstinate ground’ (p. 175)

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BURROW AS FIELD

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Imagine a burrow as a field of practice. It’s unusual to find a patch of soil that hasn’t already been worked through somewhat, so you’ll probably get started with bits of burrow someone else has made before you, or at least with all the thin tunnels woven in passing by worms and beetles. These excavations might need more work before they properly accommodate you: perhaps they’re not really your style, perhaps they’re too narrow, or they go in the wrong direction, but you have to start somewhere. The thing about digging underground is that you can only occupy the ground you’ve already worked upon. If there’s another bit of soil elsewhere and you want to incorporate into your burrow, you have to dig yourself all the way there - dig your burrow all the way there and the path you make to get there becomes part of the burrow too. The most you can ever do is scrape at the furthest peripheries of your work. And once all the digging’s done - or if you stop to look around yourself mid-dig - there’s no way of telling which parts were the process of getting there and which parts were the destination. The burrow’s the end product of all the burrowing, but it also stays behind as a record of all the burrowing that went on to get it there.

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A productive function of the BURROW AS FIELD tool is its physical topology, which allows one to grip hold of and examine the field of writing by clambering around inside it. This function in turn gives shape to another one: that concealed inside it, a burrow contains objects, actions and architectures which in turn might be handled, named and manoeuvred into new shapes. Indeed anything to be found within the animal’s burrow might serve as a new tool to more carefully consider the operations and interactions within the writer’s field. As these tools become increasingly particular, it becomes increasingly accurate to leave the details of their use to the individual user, and to provide in this handbook only the barest handles of the tools. So from this point on, the handles of possible tools will be offered directly from the text, without any presumption of how these handles might resolve into tools, or what those tools might grip in the context of the reader’s own field. ‘In this castle court I collect my provisions, here I heap up everything I catch inside the burrow that exceeds my needs of the moment and everything that I bring back from my hunting expeditions outside. The chamber is so big that provisions for half a year do not fill it. Therefore I can easily spread them out, move around among them, play with them, enjoy their great quantity and various smells, and always have an accurate overall view of what is on hand. [...] Of course, I can do this at my leisure, without rushing, and it’s not such an unpleasant thing to carry these goods between your teeth, to lie down and rest wherever you want, to nibble on whatever appeals to you at that moment.’ (pp. 165-166)

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PROVISIONS AS

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Imagine provisions as ___________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________

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‘I know clearly that here is my castle [...] my castle that can never belong in the slightest to anyone else and that is so much mine that here in the end I can even calmly accept the fatal wound from my enemy, for here my blood seeps into my own soil and will not be lost. And what else than this is the meaning of the lovely hours that, half peacefully sleeping, half happily wakeful, I am accustomed to spend in the passages that are designed precisely for me, for comfortable stretching, childish tumbling, dreamy sprawling, blissful falling asleep. [...] I have infinite amounts of time; I always have infinite amounts of time inside the burrow, for everything that I do there is good and important and sates me, so to speak [...] and so I play with my work and add to it and chuckle to myself and am delighted and become totally confused by so much work but do not stop doing it.’ (pp. 175-177)

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CHILDISH TUMBLING AS DREAMY SPRAWLING TEXT AS TOOLKIT

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Imagine childish tumbling and dreamy sprawling as ____________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________

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‘At such moments I am often in the habit of collecting my thoughts by inspecting the burrow and often, after the necessary improvements have been made, by leaving it, though never for longer than a brief period. The punishment for leaving the burrow for longer periods seems too severe to me even then, but the necessity of occasional excursions is something I can agree to. [...] I cautiously lift the trap door, and I am outside; cautiously I let it drop and race away as fast as I can, away from the telltale spot. Yet I am not really out in the open: though I am no longer squeezing my way through the passages but hunting in the open [...]. I am too deeply occupied with my burrow. I have run swiftly out through the entrance, but soon I return. I look for a good hiding place and stealthily watch the entrance to my house - in this instance from the outside - for days and nights at a time. You may call it foolish, but it gives me ineffable pleasure; even more, it consoles me. It feels to me, then, not as if I were standing outside my house but outside myself while I am asleep and know the joy of sleeping deeply and at the same time of being able to keep a close watch on myself. In a certain sense I am privileged, not only to see the ghosts of the night in the helplessness and blissful trust of sleep, but also to encounter them in reality with the full strength of wakefulness and the calm capacity to form judgements.’ (pp. 167, 169-170)

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WATCH THE ENTRANCE AS FROM OUTSIDE TEXT AS TOOLKIT

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Imagine watching the entrance from outside as _______________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________

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‘Not quite at the centre of the burrow, carefully planned for the case of utmost danger, not exactly a pursuit but a siege, lies the main chamber. While all the burrow may be more a product of rigorous reasoning than of physical effort, this castle court is the result of the most arduous labor of my body, using all its parts. [...] [T]he earth had to be practically hammered solid to form this great, beautifully vaulted and rounded chamber. [...] The chamber is so big that provisions for half a year do not fill it.’ (pp. 164-165) ‘One of my favourite plans had been to disengage the castle court from the earth surrounding it, that is, keep its walls to a thickness more or less equal to my height but over and beyond this, to create all around the castle court a hollow space the width of the wall, leaving intact a small foundation that, unfortunately, could not be detached from the ground. I had always imagined this hollow space, probably not without some justice, as the most wonderful abode I could ever have. To hang from this dome, to pull yourself up, to slide down, to turn a somersault, and once again to feel the ground under your feet, and to play all these games literally on the body of the castle court and yet not in its own true chamber; to be able to avoid the castle court, to give your eyes a rest from it, to postpone until later the joy of seeing it and yet not to have to do without it but instead literally hold it tight between your claws, something impossible to do if you have only the one ordinary open access to it; but above all to be able to watch over it, to be so richly compensated for being deprived of the sight of it that if you had to choose between staying in the castle court or in the hollow space, you would certainly choose the hollow space for all the days of your life so as always to roam up and down there forever and protect the castle court.’ (pp. 179-180)

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DISENGAGE THE CASTLE AS COURT

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Imagine disengaging the castle court as ______________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________

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AS

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Imagine as as _________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________

Page numbers throughout refer to ‘The Burrow’ (1923) by Franz Kafka, as printed in ‘Kafka’s Selected Stories’, translated and edited by Stanley Corngold, Princeton 2007.

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Very Small Kitchen 2010

www.verysmallkitchen.com

TEXT AS TOOLKIT: A PRACTICAL HANDBOOK by Tamarin Norwood  

Tamarin Norwoods, TEXT AS TOOLKIT: A PRACTICAL HANDBOOK is the first in a series of e-chapbooks developed from the Art Writing Field Station...

TEXT AS TOOLKIT: A PRACTICAL HANDBOOK by Tamarin Norwood  

Tamarin Norwoods, TEXT AS TOOLKIT: A PRACTICAL HANDBOOK is the first in a series of e-chapbooks developed from the Art Writing Field Station...

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