vendredi 15 novembre 2013

Concentrated Deskwork.

Martin Jaubert & Flavien Menu, A Slight Change of Angle, 2011 (see here).
Here is probably an apt place for some exposition on my background re: silence and concentrated deskwork. In hindsight, I know that there was something about the silent, motionless intensity with which everyone in that opened door's instant was studying the tax-related documents before them that frightened and thrilled me. The scene was such that you just knew that if you were to open the door for another brief instant ten, twenty, or forty minutes later, it would look and sound just the same. I had never seen anything like it. Or rather I had, in a way, for of course television and books often portray concentrated study or deskwork just this way, at least by implication. As in e.g. "Irving knucled down and spent the entire morning plowing through the paperwork on his desk"; "Only when she had finished the report did the executive glance at her watch and see that it was nearly midnight. She had been completely absorbed in her task and was famished. Gracious, wherever did all the time go? she thought to herself". Or even just as in "He spent the day reading". In real life, of course, concentrated deskwork doesn't go this way. I had spent massive amounts of time in libraries; I knew quite well how deskwork really was. Especially if the task at hand was dry or repetitive, or dense, or if it involved reading something that had no direct relevance to your own life and priorities, or was work that you were doing only because you had to - like for a grade, or part of a freelance assignment for pay for some lout who was off skiing. The way hard deskwork really goes is in jagged little fits and starts, brief intervals of concentration alternated with frequent trips to the men's room, the drinking fountain, the vending machine, constant visits to the pencil sharpener, phone calls you suddenly feel are imperative to make, rapt intervals of seeing what kinds of shapes you can bend a paperclip into & c. (1). This is because sitting still and concentrating on just one task for an extended length of time is, as a practical matter, impossible. If you said, "I spent the whole night at the library working on some client's sociology paper", you really meant that you'd spent between two and three hours working on it and the rest of the time fidgeting and sharpening and organizing pencils and doing skin-checks in the men's room mirror and wandering around the stacks opening volumes at random and reading about, say, Durkheim's theories of suicide.

David Foster Wallace, The Pale King, Penguin Books, 2012, p.293.


1. For me, the pencil sharpener is a big one. I like a very particular sort of vert sharp pencil and some pensil sharpeners are a great deal better than others for achieving this special shape, which then is blunted and ruined after only a sentence or two, requiring a large number of sharpened pencils all lined up in a special order of age, remaining height, & c. The upshot is that nearly everyone I knew had distracting little rituals like this, of which rituals the whole point, deep down, was that they were distracting.

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