Guest Post: Afton Wilky on Clarity Speaks of a Crystal Sea


Hi all. I’m really excited that you’re participating in a multimedia “writing” workshop—there are tons of possibilities and I know you all are going to make amazing pieces. I wanted to share some thoughts and questions about process which began my book project—a project I like to call a material narrative / a narrative of material.

One of the most invigorating things for me about contemporary writing and art is the attention to process (a.k.a. praxis). When we consider the way something is made as part of the content, a very different narrative becomes important.

This narrative of material and the artist/writer and the way it parallels the kind of narrative you’re used to seeing in a novel, movie, or TV-show was one of the things I was able to explore through my project, Clarity Speaks of a Crystal Sea. But of course I didn’t know I was doing that at the beginning at all. I had all sorts of ideas about collage and even taking photographs of miniature vignettes I’d construct. Most importantly, I was making things and asking “what if I did this.”

Because I didn’t know how the shift would change the project I was developing, I can’t even tell you exactly how I got from collaging, where you’re cutting up and adding material to a surface to the cutout poems, where I’d cut material out of something that was already seen as complete. The process is basically a variation of erasures, but the main difference is apparent when we start seeing the process used to make these poems in a narrative or significant way.

If we start articulating what’s going on in the two processes, erasure and cutout, we can read the differences in what’s being done to the material.

• Erasure marks out words and letters by adding ink or paint on top of what’s there while cutout detaches and removes parts.
• Erasure leaves the original page whole while cutout makes the page very fragile.
• Both erasure and cutout indicate the position of what has been taken away in the way a map does. In this way they both reveal their process.
• Both change the original significance of the text.
So recognizing these differences of process, actually gives us a lot of information about what we mean by “erasing.” When we start to put words to what we see happening then a whole level of significance emerges. More importantly, we can see another space of possibility for our work to explore.

The other important thing to remember is that we’re not just experimenting on inanimate material—the actions we perform as writers and artists are manipulations of our bodies. And text too, what happens when I start manipulating pronouns by cutting the “s” out of “she” in order to make “_he.” That’s not the same as “he” at all, is it?

And aren’t pronouns themselves a kind of erasing of the body? They take away the particulars—almost anyone can step into the position set up by a pronoun. It’s a kind of echo chamber in which anything might occur and accrue.

What happens when we start to think of social and linguistic erasures where the trace of erasing is wiped out and lost?
What happens when we make the thing we want to talk about, call attention to, and/or understand?

What happens when we take the thing we thought we wanted to throw away and make it something?

As you can see, to start a project you don’t need any complex system or insightful idea. You can just start making things and as you go along you ask yourself “what if” questions about what your doing. Or questions like “how am I getting from point A to point B.” If you’re doing something like this, the project gets complex and really interesting gradually. You get to know your material, start asking even more interesting questions, and make really interesting observations that compound each other, etc.

After reading this, I hope you want to try to develop your own method of erasure. What are you going to erase with? How are you going to erase? What are you going to erase? Why are you going to erase from it / all of it / out of it? Will we be able to tell what’s been done?

As a sort of inversion of the process of erasure, here’s additional / alternative prompt:

Go someplace you’ve never been before and stay there for at least 20 minutes.
OR Go someplace you’ve been to with your car using an alternative mode of transportation.
OR Go someplace you’ve been to with your car and get out of the car and stay there for at least 20 minutes.
Record your experiences and thoughts in some way.


5 thoughts on “Guest Post: Afton Wilky on Clarity Speaks of a Crystal Sea

  1. There were two points of Afton Wilky’s guest post that I found particularly compelling. One is this idea of erasure and cutout as foci of multimedia composition. The other was the “manipulations of our bodies” when creating electronic literature. In the process of any creation, erasure is something inevitable that any artist/author must deal with. Certain parts must be erased or cut out in order for the final product to come through. But I think that what is different about Wilky’s post is that erasure and cutout become central to the composition rather than a means to an end. This reminds me of what I learned a while back, that things, people, and places are defined as much by what they are as by what they are not. In this sense, the absence itself becomes a sort of entity. Regarding the second idea, I agree completely although I had never used Wilky’s language to describe it like that. As writers we pour ourselves into the work we create and, in that sense, the products we create become a kind of reflection of ourselves.

  2. I like the way in which this post describes different ways of seeing things and writing about them. I normally would not have thought of taking away from a complete work to create an entirely new one, but I think that it is an interesting concept, and it is interesting to see how the process of erasing adds to the meaning of the new piece, as in Clarity Speaks of a Crystal Sea. The word “_he” that is used in this post to explain this idea stood out to me as a great illustration of this concept, because it is easy to see both the meaning of “he” alone and the meaning that it could have had before it was partly erased, adding a layer of significance to the final product. I also think that the suggestion to use a different mode of transportation on a route that you normally drive was a good way to consider familiar things in new ways. I used to take the bus to and from school every day, but one day I missed it and had to walk most of the way home. It was surprising how different everything looked from the sidewalk than it had from the bus. I think it is important for a writer to be able to see her texts in different ways like that.

  3. I really enjoyed how Wilky addressed the similarities and differences between erasures and cutouts. It was refreshing to me that she referred to the “changes” made to the original works as manipulations. I was also intrigued that Wilky acknowledged that these manipulations not only affect the inanimate object or the original work but also are a reflection of our bodies as well. It is often overlooked that writing is a relationship between the writer’s body and his or her work. The choices he or she makes when carrying out these manipulations and the way his or her body physically perform the act of manipulating directly affect the outcome of the work. The creation process of writing is essentially a duet between the writer and his or her product.

  4. What Wilky addressed really resonated with me. It reminded me a lot of my thought process when I am choreographing a dance. She said the actions we perform as writers and artists are manipulations of our bodies. I constantly manipulate the movement and go back and forth adding and taking away from my vision. This is extremely useful however, and I often spark up new ideas, which Wilky discussed. There are so many ways to get to the same outcome and she really helped to open our minds to this idea like taking another means of transportation to a location you normally drive too.

  5. I really liked the defining difference between the idea of erasure and that of cutout. I felt like the subtle, but also drastic difference between the two really helped encapsulate the different ways of artistic expression through collage that allow for the project to be original even as it is formed from components of other pieces. I also really enjoyed Wilky’s discussion here of collage because I think that it is a form both in visual and literary works that is often derided as being, in a sense, substandard or mere mimicry. I think that by discussing the terminology of collage and the difference ways in which collage can be expressed helps to further legitimize the form, which seems to obviously be an important part of Wilky’s work.

    My favorite and most personally inspiring aspect of Wilky’s post to read was about the process of the growth of a project. I personally find it motivating and reassuring to know that Wilky’s project started out as ideas and desires to accomplish certain tasks, but without necessarily a complete design in its entirety.

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