GeoHumanities: Press Release

Actual material copies of the first issue of GeoHumanities exist and the first issue is available on line as open access. I think it is a wonderful collection that brings something quite different to the table for our conversations across and between disciplines about space and place etc. Here is the press release.

Press Release, 26 October 2015

New AAG journal published

This month sees the publication of the first issue of a brand new journal from the Association of American Geographers: GeoHumanities.

GeoHumanities is a new kind of journal, connecting the traditional humanities to both science and the creative arts.

Dr. David Green, Publishing Director International for Routledge Journals, explains: “In the past decade, there has been a convergence of transdisciplinary thought characterized by geography’s engagement with the humanities, and the humanities’ integration of place and the tools of geography into its studies. GeoHumanities journal will now provide the latest, cutting edge information and peer-reviewed research in the field.”

The journal’s editing is being shared by two scholars well qualified for the job. Tim Cresswell is Professor of History and International Affairs at Northeastern University in Boston, as well as Associate Director for Public Humanities at its Humanities Center. Deborah Dixon is Professor of Geography at the University of Glasgow in the UK.

Dixon explains: “GeoHumanities is an opportunity to bring together original, scholarly articles that blur and blend disciplinary specialisms, but that also carve out new lines of inquiry, and new ways of doing research. And, it is an opportunity to present these alongside practice-based commentaries that speak to all manner of timely issues, from the wicked problems of the Anthropocene to the shifting sense of place created by geolocative media.”

In Issue 1, Cresswell notes, “a philosopher considers the role of place in western movies, a creative video artist engages with the politics of the Amazonian forest, a geographer explores the strange history of a perfumer, a poet contemplates the global connections enacted by a desert train, and a historian uses GIS to study eighth century China.”

This exciting new title adds to the AAG’s historic and prestigious portfolio of journals. As Executive Director Douglas Richardson points out, “GeoHumanities builds on a decade-long AAG initiative to engage research and scholarship at the intersections and convergences of Geography and the Humanities, and the resultant recent publication (also by Routledge) of two ground-breaking AAG books examining these trends and interactions.”

Green adds: “It is Routledge’s pleasure to extend our publishing partnership with the AAG. We are most grateful to the Association, and specifically Doug Richardson and the teams of Editors, for continuing to entrust their journals to Routledge, one of the world’s leading geography publishers.”

All content in the first issue is freely available until the end of January 2016. Visit http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rgeo20 to browse the papers. New submissions are welcome at any time. Visit the AAG website for further information and guidelines: http://www.aag.org/cs/publications/journals/gh

END
NOTES

About the Association of American Geographers
The Association of American Geographers is one of the world’s leading scientific and professional societies for geographers, with over 11,000 members worldwide. Since its founding in 1904, AAG members – comprising academics, teachers, students, and professionals – have been sharing interests in the theory, methods, and practice of geography.
The AAG has four scholarly journals, all published by Taylor and Francis: the Annals of the Association of American Geographers, The Professional Geographer, the AAG Review of Books, and GeoHumanities.
Websites: http://www.aag.org and news.aag.org
Twitter: @theAAG
Contact: Dr Jenny Lunn, Journals Director, Association of American Geographers, email: jlunn@aag.org

About Taylor & Francis Group
Taylor & Francis Group partners with researchers, scholarly societies, universities and libraries worldwide to bring knowledge to life. As one of the world’s leading publishers of scholarly journals, books, ebooks and reference works, our content spans all areas of Humanities, Social Sciences, Behavioral Sciences, Science, and Technology and Medicine.
From our network of offices in Oxford, New York, Philadelphia, Boca Raton, Boston, Melbourne, Singapore, Beijing, Tokyo, Stockholm, New Delhi and Johannesburg, Taylor & Francis staff provide local expertise and support to our editors, societies and authors and tailored, efficient customer service to our library colleagues.
Taylor & Francis Online – http://www.tandfonline.com/
Follow us on Twitter @tandfnewsroom
Contact: Amanda Patterson, Marketing Associate (Geography), Taylor & Francis Group, email: amanda.patterson@taylorandfrancis.com, tel: 215-606-4200

2015 – Adventures in Critical Geosophy

2015 is shaping up to be an eventful year. A number of significant projects and events are on the horizon and they are all exciting and somewhat interconnected. The connecting point is my longstanding interest in what I call ‘Critical Geosophy” – the interpretation of geographical knowledge and its role in the constitution of culture and society. I am thinking here of the ways we are informed by ideas such as ‘place’ and ‘mobility’ in particular. The particular projects/events are:

1) Fence My second poetry book, Fence, is being published by Penned in the Margins in October. I am at the final editing stage. I have been fortunate to read this in its entirety three times (Guelph, Concordia, Queens) and am going to read it again at Cornell later this month. I will also do a selection of it at the Nordic Geography conference in Estonia in June. The book is a sequence that takes the form of a polyvocal montage of my own journey to Svalbard (with Nowhereisland) along with fragmented versions of parts of the travel accounts of English explorer, Robert Fothery from 1613 and 1614 and Leonie D’Aunet – the first woman to visit Svalbard in 1838.The sequence uses a number of different vocabularies to explore the relationship between language, a particular place, the flows in and out of it and a fence. The fence stands for both the separations of territories and the flows that make up place. Along the way we encounter whaling, migrant species, a disco, geology and economic imperialism. It is a form of place-writing that enacts and enlivens my more academic considerations of place and mobility.

2) GeoHumanities Fence is also a example of GeoHumanities in action. While GeoHumanities is a recent term it represents an exciting coming together of the humanities side of geography (the longest standing version of geography), the spatial turn across the humanities and social sciences, recent developments in geocoded software, GIS, forms of visualisation of space, place and mobility, and new ways of engaging with the earth in the creative arts and practices. I have been appointed as one of the first Managing Editors of the new Taylor and Francis journal – GeoHumanities (along with Deborah Dixon at the University of Glasgow). The journal is an initiative of the Association of American Geographers and is the culmination of years of meetings and special sessions at AAG conferences. Despite its disciplinary home, GeoHumanities is a genuinely interdisciplinary journal and will include contributions from across the humanities as well as creative contributions from creative practitioners. We are putting together an international and interdisciplinary editorial board which includes creative writers and artists. The journal will be launched at the AAG conference in Chicago in April and the first issue will appear in October.

3) All Possible Worlds In the summer of 2007, on holiday with my family, we got to the end of reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I had been reading the whole series  aloud to Owen and Sam and now Maddy too (she wasn’t around when all this started). The whole reading aloud as a family thing had centred on this series. Anyway – suddenly there was nothing to read so I started writing my own story for the same age group. I wrote 1000 words a day and read it aloud in the evening. Since then I have continued to write it and read it aloud (even as Owen became 21) on family holidays. This last year the momentum has grown and I am almost done. About three chapters left and I know everything that is going to happen. I am excited about the story and my kids all apparently love it. At the centre of it is lovely London (actually several Londons) and the magic of maps. It was partly inspired by the book Sophie’s World which introduced children to philosophy and partly by the Inkheart series which I also read aloud and which featured the danger of writing stories that become real. So – this is another exercise in representing geographical knowledge and its relationship to power. I just need an agent!

4) Living in the Mobility Transition 2014 saw the start of a large comparative project on the future of mobilities. More specifically the project looks at the possible transitions to low(er) carbon mobilities in a range of sites around the world including Canada, the UK, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, New Zealand, South Korea, the Netherlands, Russia, Singapore, South Africa and Turkey. This has meant engaging with the literature on socio-technical transitions as well as the policy arena – both of which are new to me. Central to the emerging project is the way imaginations about mobility and the practice of mobility need to be part of any transition to a post-peak oil and lower carbon world. This is something a geographical imagination can bring to this crucial field of enquiry.

5) Topo-poetics I recently finished and defended my doctorate in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway that involved 50 pages of poems as well as 40,000 words of theory. The theory section revolved around the idea of poems as space and places (as well as poems about spaces and places). I developed ideas around the topos of the poem and then explored this in four poets – Elizabeth Bishop, John Burnside, Don McKay and Jorie Graham.  I am going to add a few more poets to this list – probably Lorine Niedecker and Roy Fisher and submit it as a book.

These are all linked by critical geosophy. They all engage with the way geography informs imaginations and forms of representation in worlds that are shot through with power.

The Writing Process – Blog Tour

What am I working on?

The answer to this just changed. In April I would have said that I was getting towards completing my second collection – called erratic. The collection was going to be in two parts. The first was a selection of about 25-40 shortish poems of themes of travel and displacement while the second was a 25 part sequence called Fence Furthest North about a fence in Svalbard (supposedly the northernmost fence in the world – who knows). Then I was lucky enough to go to the Banff Centre in Alberta, Canada for a month long “Writing Studio” under the mentorship of the Canadian poets Karen Solie and Suzanne Buffam and the American poet Srikanth Reddy. The Writing Studio programme is aimed at writers who already have a first book out so I was also accompanied by 23 excellent writers as well as the mentors for the narrative writers including Greg Hollingshead, Dionne Brand and Gail Jones. I am not sure that anything quite like this programme exists anywhere else – a whole month surrounded by mountains, elk, bears and writing, writing, writing. Anyway – back to the story. I was aiming to polish up the collection and get it ready to send out. I just needed a few more poems. Well, to cut to the chase, Srikanth (Chicu) Reddy was suitably enthused by the sequence to suggest it might benefit from being expanded to become a whole book. This meant embracing some tendencies in my writing that I have resisted – a more ‘clever’ and ‘experimental’ mode of writing that connects most directly to my work as an academic who is quite fond of ‘theory’. I have quite a catholic taste in poetry and can be moved by both short traditional lyric poems and long, complicated whole book sequences that are in a more modernist mode. I don’t have much time for the camps that disparage one another frequently. But that does present some problems when I am writing in both modes and I have doubts about both. Anyway – I worked on the sequence and it is now 42 segments and close to being complete (just three more segments in my head that I need to find inspiration/time/space for). The sequence included my own visit to Svalbard and my encounter with the fence as well as poetic renditions of journals of previous visitors from 1613 and 1838. There is concrete poety, erasure, noun-heavy Lorine Neidecker objectivism and sly, pop-culture references. The themes are travel, territory, whaling, northern-ness and language. Oh – and, of course, there is still the collection of short poems – erratic. So one collection has become two. And, while I have your attention, I am completing the prose section of my PhD in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway with Jo Shapcott. This is an account of poetry and place which I call topo-poetics which draws on Aristotle, Heidegger and contemporary phenomenology to look at Elizabeth Bishop, John Burnside, Don McKay and Jorie Graham. I plan to add Lorine Neidecker and Jack Spicer and then see if I can find a publisher.

How does my work differ from others in the genre?

Well my work represents a combination of a life only I have lived on the one hand, and over twenty years of being a professional human geographer on the other (obviously the latter is part of the former). These are the preoccupations I bring to my work. So thematically they tend to draw on my travels and the places I have lived as well as my concern for landscapes and places and the ways we (I, mostly) relate to them. So they are about place, belonging, travel, displacement and lack of belonging. Stylistically I tend to like a spare, adjective-free style with plenty of space. I am not a noisy poet. I also like poems that are slightly removed from their object – that look at things from a distance. There is a lot of looking in my work. “I” am often absent. I quite like thinking through poetry. If there is one piece of advice I have heard over and over it is not to have an ‘idea’ for a poem – or not to let ideas drive poems. I have tried to write idea-free poems and have only recently embraced the possibility that it might be ok to write poems driven by ideas (abstractions). I saw Alice Oswald read recently in Boston and she was asked about American poetry and she said she admired its ability to tackle ideas and that she could not do that. I am not sure if she was being serious or giving a coded criticism. But it is certainly true that there is a more intellectual bent to much of the work being done over here than back in the UK. I quite like that.

Why do I write what I do?

I don’t really know the answer to this. I know that is something I enjoy immensely. It feels like it has no ulterior motive – it is just itself. The specific themes that preoccupy me might come from being born to an airforce family that moved around quite a bit. I think I went to five primary schools. Since leaving school I have never lived anywhere for longer than 7 years. I have no really deep attachment to anywhere but envy those who do. But I also like the endless possibilities of other places which I fall for again and again. I can get off a plane sick from travel and it only takes a few days to think of the next trip. I look at contrails from planes in the sky in the same way people used to talk about the lure of the train’s whistle in the American Midwest (British trains don’t have alluring whistles). In addition to these quite embodied senses I am also generally fascinated with the way people attach themselves or do not attach themselves to the world. And how those attachments (or lack of them) mess up the earth so much. I love things that are a little out of place – that don’t seem to belong. It may be that that is all I ever write about.

How does my writing process work

There are several ways poems come about for me. One is simply based on a line or sound that catches my attention – something I want to work with. Often I am inspired by reading other poems. I tend to work with books by my side which vary depending on which mood I am in. I often have Elizabeth Bishop moods or Jen Hadfield moods. Sometimes I am in more of an Anne Carson or Lorine Neidecker frame of mind. I think it will take decades of doing this over and over again before something that might be more purely me might emerge. I am happy to be derivative in the sense that blues musician might do blues songs over and over hoping to get it right. Sometimes it is an idea that drives a poem. I will want to write a poem about something in particular. I have been trying to write a poem about turbulence – a turbulent poem – without much success. Sometimes it is even a form that I want to try on for size. I walk around with poems in my head as companions. I like this stage – having company – and get antsy if there no poem I am thinking about. At some point I write in a note book – a few lines or perhaps something resembling a whole poem. I often arrange poems into sonnets or into couplets just to see how they look. I also change points of view and tenses. I write poems and then take away the endings or beginnings – sometimes I turn endings into beginnings. Another moment I enjoy is typing them out so they look like a poem on the screen and then the page. But this has the danger of thinking they might be finished. There are usually moments months, or even years, later when a sudden jolt and rearrangement makes the poem approach its final form. It amazes me how they can exist so long before something suddenly becomes obvious about how the poem needs to be.

For the next stop on the blog tour (coming next week) please visit Joanna Lilley‘s blog.

Joanna Lilley is a writer living in Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada. Her poetry collection, The Fleece Era was published by Brick Books in 2014 and her short story collection, The Birthday Books is due to be published by Hagios Press in 2015. Her poems are widely published in leading Canadian poetry magazines.

Place Writing Podcast – LSE Branching Out Festival

On Saturday it was my pleasure to chair a session on “place writing” at the LSE Branching Out Literary festival. It was an excellent set of ideas and ensuing discussion with three very different writers – Paul Farley, Sara Maitland and Tristan Gooley. It reflected on the recent renaissance of writing that is explicitly about place, landscape and the environment and raised some important questions about the role of such writing at this particular moment. It is available as a podcast at

http://www2.lse.ac.uk/newsAndMedia/videoAndAudio/channels/publicLecturesAndEvents/player.aspx?id=1794

An Attempt to Exhaust a Place in Chicago

I have been working hard on the Maxwell Street Book. I am planning short little amusements between chapters – the first might be this – derived from Perec’s lovely little book – An Attempt to Exhaust a Place in Paris. Another kind of list.

Corner of Maxwell and Halsted Street, 11.50am – 12.50pm, 21 October 2012

(the 100th Anniversary of the Maxwell Street Market).

 

I sit in Caribou Coffee, on the southwest corner of Maxwell and Halsted.

 

Large man in a lumberjack shirt with a thin woman wearing shades sit on a black metal bench (fake cast iron) with small Jack Russell.

 

A white Toyota Prius parks outside in the one remaining spot.

 

Opposite – “Morgans – on Maxwell Street, Bar and Grill”

 

The other corners of the intersection are “Jumbo Juice” and “Sheikh Shoes.”

 

I have a small vanilla latte!

 

Cars passing in a steady stream, mostly black, white or silver.

 

Hipster with goatee and cap – black trousers with white lightning strikes down the side, red jacket.

 

A woman with dog (black).

 

Black and orange cab with ‘Stay Hydrated Chicago” sign on top – stops – opposite.

 

“I have a medium decaff coffee!”

 

Black man in a Bogart hat enters Morgan’s.

 

Cyclists with helmets.

 

Jogger in black with beanie hat.

 

Woman on cell phone.

 

A man staring at the screen of his phone walking slowly, doesn’t look up.

 

Canvas signs on lampposts – “University Village” – picture of a woman of uncertain ethnicity, white? Asian? Latina?

 

“Your village in the City!”

 

School bus painted black – “Untouchable Tours”.

 

The street lamps look old and have been painted black – they’re meant to look like gas-lamps.

 

The surface of Maxwell Street is made from what look like red bricks.

 

A variety of hoodies with various college logos.

 

“I have medium skimmed latte!”

 

8 – Halsted bus pulls up advertising Burger King – original chicken sandwich, buy one, get one free.

 

Man and woman hand in hand – him with Blacksox jacket.

 

Briefly can’t see anyone – 2-5 people on average, visible at any one time.

 

Thin jogger, grey top, shades, luminous running shoes.

 

Hardly a cloud.

 

Still a steady stream of cars.

 

Window frames painted matt green or terracotta – tasteful.

 

Red brick, sandstone  – “Maxwell Street” inscription above the second floor windows.

 

18 bus – 16th/Cicero.

 

Plentiful sporting attire, shades, phones out.

 

Hispanic group of three (dad? granddad?).

 

18 bus with “are you curious” written on the side.

 

“Small, iced, berry mocha, no whip – enjoy your stay!”

 

African-American family, three kids, one being carried.

 

Man in North Face jacket, camera.

 

“Two men and a truck – movers who care.”

 

A kid on dad’s shoulders – mum looks at Morgan’s menu.

 

African-American family with a teenage boy (14?) in a fancy suit. Church getting out?

 

Backpacks, baseball caps.

 

U-haul truck – “still as low as $19.95”.

 

Long yellow truck – “expert driving school, Spanish spoken, student driver”.

 

Red ‘Rose’ paving company pick-up truck towing tar vat.

 

Cars look new but economy sized on the whole.

 

Hispanic women running with pram.

 

Church has definitely finished.

 

More cyclists, less dogs.

 

UIC sweatshirt, red on black.

 

Some people in shorts, others in wool hats and coats.

 

Three men at bus stop. Two white students (?) with short hair, athletic tops, backpacks, one older guy with a hoodie.

 

Girl in purple in a pushchair playing with beads.

 

African-American woman, red streak in hair, grey sweats, sits in bench with friend holding an iPad.

 

Red pick-up truck.

 

Blue station wagon parking badly, well-built black driver with Hawaiian shirt and baseball cap.

 

Greyhound bus with blue greyhound on its side.

 

A sudden profusion of red cars.

 

More children now. Church?

 

Silver Macs outnumber PCs in this café.

 

Kid (4?) in blue sweater plays with fire hydrant.

 

8 bus – Halsted/76th.

 

I guess that 30% of people are looking at phones.

 

Man in green tracksuit with brown and white dog (medium).

 

“Two percent, skimmed or soy?”

 

Large (tall) guy in white basketball vest with large X on front crosses the intersection.

 

18 bus – Roosevelt.

 

The Prius leaves.

 

Some of the ‘gaslights’ are on – it’s a sunny day.

 

More people in shorts now.

 

Black population seems specially dressed up today – it must be church.

 

Police car with blue lights flashing – its passage blocked at intersection.

 

“I have a medium skimmed latte!”

 

More sports team regalia.

 

“El Milagro” tortilla truck.

 

“Medium iced Americano  – you’re welcome!”

 

18 bus to 16th/Cicero.

 

Traffic is lining up now at the stop sign.

 

“Large chai latte!”

 

Shoe shop filling up.

 

“I have a large, extra shot, latte!”

 

8 bus with American Apparel sign.

 

Fewer people, more cars.

Lists

 

I am writing a book about the area of Chicago surrounding the Maxwell Street Market – for most of the last century this was the largest open air market in North America before it was forcibly displaced in the 1990s by the University of Illinois at Chicago. I always start books with the intention of writing differently – combining my interests in the creative process with my academic pursuits

As I write I cannot help but be impressed by the number of lists that I have encountered. These lists might be inventories of catalogues (associated with archives and attempting some form of completeness) or they turn up in the writings of journalists or visiting novelists and philosophers who try and capture the place that is a market. Lists, its seems to me, are integral to place in some way. This is especially true in markets. While considering lists I am reminded of the foundational role of lists in the history of literature – the Old Testament, the Iliad, early English poetry. I think of the mundane and surreal lists of Perec in his attempt to exhaust a place in Paris. I have begun to attempt to write this through and thought it might, in draft form, be worth sharing.

The following is an extract from a draft of my book MarketPlace.

Over a hundred year period observers of the market were astounded by the range of things they encountered at Maxwell Street just as much as the range of people and their practices. Consider just three examples:

 

Shoes, clothing, fish, oranges, kettles, glassware, candy, jewelry, vegetables, crates of live poultry, hats, caps, pretzels, hot-dogs, ice cream cones, beads and beans, hardware and soft drinks, lipsticks and garlic are massed together in glorious ensemble of confusion

Maxwell Street Heart of Ghetto – Chicago Daily News April 28 1928 p 14

 

Clucking white pullets, geese, pigeons, rabbits and pet pups. New straw hats and vintage bird cages. Musical instruments, fresh strawberries, crockery, ladies’ hats in the latest cuckoo designs and kerosene lamps.

(Maxwell Street to Have Face-Lifting Operation Chicago Daily News , Gene Morgan, May 24 1939, p1)

 

Wire-fencing in various size rolls; lighted compasses; a bench drill press; spices in industrial-sized containers; refrigerator/freezers; glazed ceramic tiles in boxes; a telephone-answering machine; long-stemmed glasses and crystal goblets; gloves (ski and regular); automobile wheels and tires; underwear; jeans; jackets and jump suits; battery chargers; a snow blower; notebooks and paper for school; baseball trophies; skates (ice and roller); and comforters. (Tribune 30/10/1981 npn)

 

It is impossible to properly account for Maxwell Street without noting the array of lists that it has inspired. This was a market after all. Markets are sites for lists. When we go shopping we take lists with us. When we are running any but the most meagre stall we have an inventory.  Selling, shopping, consuming and list-making are intimately related practices.

“Lists narrate practice and desire. They serve as a fulcrum between consumption and destruction, two processes that are so often seen as oppositional. For the list, this seemingly humble and transitory fragment holds clues about objects and possessions, about love and loss, about meaning and memory, Lists can be both ordering and chaotic, trivial and monumental, transitory and haunting, Most significantly, they reveal the power of the mundane and how seemingly ordinary objects can be freighted with huge and unexpected significance.” (Crewe 2011: 30)

Umberto Eco has suggested that there are two kinds of list that pepper the history of representation. One kind of list is the kind that asserts order and presents a sense of completeness. These lists (such as library catalogues, stock inventories and the like) announce their ability to account for everything. The other kind of list, however, is the list that points towards its inevitable incompleteness and suggests the possibility that it could keep going forever. These are the lists that suggest infinity (Eco 2009). I have encountered both kinds of lists in my explorations of Maxwell Street. But it is the latter that predominate. These are the kinds of list that humanity has frequently made when confronted with the chaotic. Lists may be the first kind of writing – a series of nouns mapped on to things in the world. It is certainly the case that much early literature features seemingly endless lists of names or places. This is true in the Old Testament, in Greek verse such as the Iliad and in old English poetry. One set of lists that is remarkable for its very unremarkable contents is provided by George Perec in his attempt to provide an account of place. In An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris Perec observes the Place Saint-Suplice from a number of café windows and notes, in list form, the things he sees outside of the window.

A 63 [a bus] passes by

Six sewer workers (hard hats and high boots) take rue des Canettes.

Two free taxis at the taxi stand

An 87 passes by

A blind man coming from rue des Canettes passes by in front of the café; he’s a young man, with a rather confident way of walking.

An 86 passes by

Two men with pipes and black satchels

A man with a black satchel and no pipe

A woman in a wool jacket, smiling

A 96

Another 96

(high heels: bent ankles)

An apple-green 2CV

A 63

A 70

(Perec 2010: 11-12)

 

Such list making is one way of approaching place but it is quite obviously also futile and exhausting. Perec’s experiment has a sense of failure mixed with melancholy about it. It is an attempt to capture, even exhaust, a place. It is a mundane mirror of the heroic lists in the Old Testament or the Iliad. But it does not come even close to its stated aim of exhausting a place. This little book is indicative of Perec’s wider project. In Species of Spaces Perec asks us (readers, writers) to account of our own places through the construction of lists. Such list making, he argues, will be dull and mundane but will eventually provide a spark – a moment where we are teleported to a different place and the extraordinary will emerge.  In his essay on the street he urges us to make lists endlessly “You must set about it more slowly, almost stupidly. Force yourself to write down what is of no interest, what is most obvious, most common, most colourless.” His instructions become quite precise

“The street: try to describe the street, what it’s made of, what it’s used for. The people in the street. The cars. What sort of cars? The buildings: note that they’re on the comfortable, well heeled side. Distinguish residential from official buildings.

The shops. What do they sell in the shops? There are not food shops, Oh yes, there’s a baker’s. Ask yourself where the locals do their shopping.

The cafés. How many cafés are there? One, two, three, four. Why did you choose this one? Because you know it, because it’s in the sun, because it sells cigarettes. The other shops; antique shops, clothes, hi-fi, etc. Don’t say, don’t write ‘etc.’. Make an effort to exhaust the subject, even if that seems grotesque, or pointless, or stupid. You still haven’t looked at anything, you’ve merely picked out what you’ve long ago picked out.

Force yourself to see more flatly.” (Perec 1997: 50-51)

 

“Carry on,” (making lists), he writes,  “until the scene becomes improbable, until you have the impression, for the briefest of moments, that you are in a strange town or, better still, until you can no longer understand what is happening or what is not happening, until the whole place becomes strange, and you no longer even know that this is what is called a town, a street, buildings, pavements” (Perec 1997: 53) . While not being experimental writers of creative non-fiction, journalists also found themselves using the list as a strategy for capturing the flavour of Maxwell Street.