Tuesday, 7 October 2008
Table, chair, paper
Those pictures in the Guardian Saturday Review of the rooms where writers write – I don’t see the point. They’ve been tidied up for the photographer. There’s little of dramatic visual interest (compared to, say, the pictures of artists’ studios). Most aren’t really any different from the rooms in which non-writers do their accounts or play online games. The whole column is just a sub-category of those World-of-Interiors-type features that invite you to gawp at other people’s cushions and curtains.
Most conspicuously missing in the pictures is the writer writing. So what you’re presented with is a fenced-off desk like those in museums – and telling readers that this is where the writer sits is like telling them to switch on religious awe, but without any helpful past-century detail or stunning church architecture.
A flaw in the whole concept is that the rooms are irrelevant to the whole process of writing anyway. Writers don’t need rooms in the way that artists need studios (OK, not all of them; there are artists who live and work against the whole studio-based tradition; but the ones with stretchers and gallons of paint do need somewhere to put them). Books can be written on trains, in cafes, in hotels and other public spaces, and having a special room to do it in doesn’t necessarily help. Hell, wrote Louis MacNeice, is a soundproof room. Geoff Dyer in his book on Lawrence has a great riff on looking for the perfect room in which to write, the writing of which is a way of postponing writing what he’s supposed to be writing, just as the search for the room is a way of putting off getting down to writing.
The woman is the photo above is Grace Metalious. She may be posed (The Writer Thinking, with her half-smoked cigarette), and the photo of Gipsy Rose Lee on the CBe website (and here) is certainly posed, but both say more about the writers, and how and where they worked, than the Guardian fillers.