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Neatness Counts

Neatness Counts: Essays on the Writer’s Desk

Kevin Kopelson
Copyright Date: 2004
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 182
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.cttttskf
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  • Book Info
    Neatness Counts
    Book Description:

    In Neatness Counts, Kevin Kopelson offers a series of meditations on how orderliness, chaos, and other physical states correspond with both the exhilaration of production and the desperation of writer's block. Focusing on Elizabeth Bishop, Marcel Proust, Roland Barthes, Tom Stoppard, and Bruce Chatwin, Neatness Counts is at once critical and creative, examining how various writers's work habits relate to their published work._x000B_

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-9627-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xiii-xvi)

    I shared my first desk with my brother Steve, a rickety affair our father made out of an old headboard. We did grade school homework there—nothing memorable. I did housework, too, because the finches I kept nearby left it messy.

    Steve got our brother Eric’s desk when Eric wandered off to California. I got brother Bob’s. But the drawers still contained their stuff, including index cards covered with quotations from writers like Dostoyevsky, Rilke, and Proust. (Imagine Zooey Glass perusing the bedroom walls his oldest brothers, Seymour and Buddy, had covered with Kafka.) In addition to junior high and...

  5. Desk Work
    (pp. 1-18)

    Mary McCarthy says she wouldn’t call her friend Elizabeth Bishop a great writer; she’d call her “neat.” Willard Spiegelman agrees, calling Bishop “fastidious” (203). They must mean her poems, because the woman who wrote them wasn’t neat at all. Bishop had a messy study and even messier desk, which she says bothered her.¹

    (Of course, some find neatness masculine—not to mention anal. Female writing, they say, is slovenly. So are female anatomy and psychology. Degas’s women, for example, signify both sexual and emotional mess. Male writing, however—well, ponder what Mary Orr says about Flaubert, whose prose she calls...

  6. Bedtime Story
    (pp. 19-50)

    Marcel Proust didn’t use a desk to writeÀ la recherche du temps perdu.He used a bed. Or rather, he used one to continue writing. Proust never completed the enormous novel many readers—and translators—also fail to finish. Including Bishop, no doubt, with her recumbent “character.” So why work there? And why not put the book itself to bed?

    But before I consider these questions: what about those readers and translators? Jean Cocteau once wondered whether “‘Proustians’ read line by line or skip” (249). André Gide, of course, was one such Proustian when he skimmed the first few...

  7. Same Place Twice
    (pp. 51-74)

    I seem to have accused Roland Barthes of a considerable amount of pretense over the years. I’ve accused him of pretending to reveal singular truths he really keeps to himself for fear readers might believe them and hence jeopardize his unconventionality. I’ve also accused him of three kinds of wishful thinking: pretending to be a happier, less “Wertheresque” homosexual than he really was; pretending to be a happier, more optimistic critic than he really was (unlike Benjamin, who pretended pessimism); and pretending (if only to himself, unlike Gide) to be a better pianist than he really was, or of “hallucinating...

  8. Lightning Strikes
    (pp. 75-112)

    Unlike Barthes, Tom Stoppard has never claimed not to be intellectual.¹ In fact, he’s even more intellectual, not to mention witty, than Shaw, a playwright to whom, notwithstanding political differences, he’s often compared. Nor has Stoppard ever prioritized originality.² In fact, he’d even have us recognize his dependence on—not to mention mastery of—an impressive number of impressive precursors, including Shaw.³ “I have this feeling that I could have written most other people’s plays and most other people could have written mine,” he once claimed, “because I know how it’s done and they know how it’s done” (quoted in...

  9. Movable Type
    (pp. 113-138)

    Now that I know Bruce Chatwin’s life nearly as well as his work, I must confess I don’t like it a lot. Or rather, I don’t like him. For one thing, Chatwin took advantage of friends. He also took advantage of his wife, Elizabeth Chanler. So I’m tempted to deprecate him–much as Chatwin treated Indira Gandhi, that “lying, scheming bitch” (quoted in Shakespeare, 298).¹ But I’m stopped by the Proustian recognition that an author’s best, possibly truest self is in the work alone.² I’m stopped by the death of the author—not so much in a figurative, Barthesian sense...

  10. From The Notebooks
    (pp. 139-142)

    All the Little Flowers. The pronouncement, probably by Jean Paul, that memories are the only possessions which no one can take from us, belongs in the storehouse of impotently sentimental consolations that the subject, resignedly withdrawing into inwardness, would like to believe the very fulfillment that he has given up. In setting up his own archives, the subject seizes his own stock of experience as property, so making it something wholly external to himself. Past inner life is turned into furniture just as, conversely, every Biedermeier piece was memory made wood. The interior where the soul accommodates its collection of...

  11. Works Cited
    (pp. 143-154)
  12. Permissions
    (pp. 155-156)
  13. Index
    (pp. 157-164)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 165-165)