July 24, 2014
Working on your novel? Tell that to artist Cory Arcangel
by Benjamin Sandman
A friend says, “I’m working on my novel.” First, you’re impressed: you think, Wow, a novel! Then comes resentment. Why, you think, is he bragging about it? What does he need to prove? Hasn’t he heard: the novel is dead! Maybe he’s lying. He’s probably not even writing at all. Poor guy. I feel sorry for him.
With Working on My Novel, artist Cory Arcangel explores these, uh, complex feelings, as reported by Creative Review. Out at the end of July from Penguin, the book consists of a curated selection of tweets, all of which include the phrase “working on my novel.” The project began as a Twitter account, which includes these gems:
Kanye has inspired me to start working on my novel again, thank you Kanye
— Gravity’s Alec (@AlecButModarn) March 16, 2014
Drinking beer and working on my novel.
— Dani Michel (@danimibeer) June 30, 201
There are some common themes: distraction, procrastination––and, unsurprisingly, drinking.
Despite their optimism, a few of these authors seem destined to appear in a future edition of C.D. Rose’s The Biographical Dictionary of Literary Failure. The book, to be published by Melville House in November, covers fifty-two of history’s most notable failed writers. Like Arcangel’s project, the result is both funny and melancholic. Take the biography of Edward Nash, for example:
After closely observing the sea and the clouds for at least six hours each day, Edward Nash would return home and begin to write. His aim, both minute and monumental, was to describe as closely and as perfectly as possible the slow swell of a wave, from the moment it began to form to the point at which it foamed, crested and then broke on the shore or back on itself into the moiling water which was its source.
Nash’s goal was to craft one perfect sentence. After he died, on a bench overlooking the ocean, his notebooks were found to contain “only single words, lines or phrases.”
“Like a wave or a cloud,” Rose writes, “Edward Nash’s sentence had never been complete.”
These novels, too, might not be completed. The tweets collected by Arcangel may one day be the only proof they existed.
Ben Sandman is a Melville House intern