December 12: The 24-Hour Book
At 10 AM on Saturday, 10 December 2011, author Brian Dillon sat down at Cabinet Magazine's gallery space in Brooklyn and began writing a book. By 10 AM the next morning, the completed book was at the printers.
The inaugural volume in Cabinet’s new “24-Hour Book” series, Dillon’s book explores the scenography of writing itself. Inspired in part by Georges Perec's short fragment in Species of Spaces on Antonello da Messina's painting of St. Jerome in his study, Dillon’s text is a personal reflection on the theatrics of the study, the library, and the office, and a historical consideration of such writerly paraphernalia as Flaubert's divan, Proust's bed, Leibniz's card cabinet, and Thomas Wolfe’s refrigerator desk.
Dillon, who arrived without any notes or other prepared material, of course also had to remain open to the contingencies of an unfamiliar writing environment, peculiar and perhaps slightly dodgy take-out food, a makeshift bed, and a capricious heating system, not to mention the obvious pressures of working under extreme time constraints. If that were not enough, this particular scene of writing was a public one, with curious onlookers dropping in during the process to watch the author (and his support staff) "at work.” Download an excerpt from the book here, or order your own copy from Cabinet.
At the precise moment Dillon’s tome was completed on Sunday morning, it was sent to a fearless cohort of forty-seven graduate students and faculty members at Princeton who had contracted to read and respond under similar constraints. Over the next twenty-four hours, the experiment in the radical compression of culture continued as the respondents labored over their essays, which were duly submitted by 10 AM on Monday to the editors (K. Collins, S. Galson, T. Herion, E. Vasiliauskas, and A. Young, all degree candidates at IHUM).
After two hours of their laser-like editorial scrutiny, the newly titled volume Reception Rooms was off to the designers, and thence to the printers in time to have a mock-up of the book available for a symposium at 4:30 Monday afternoon. Contributors, the Cabinet editors, and a crowd of the curious from the University community gathered in McCormick Hall to consider the past, present, and future of such experiments in the radical compression of culture. Brian Dillon spoke eloquently of the trials of composition, and entertained responses from D. Graham Burnett, Brooke Holmes, Enrique Ramirez, and Julianne Werlin. The discussion took up such questions as what it means to write, under such constraints, a "good book"; what else there is to write (the threat of failure, and its possible forms); and the families of constraint (from the journalist's deadline, to Oulipian rules, to deathbed exigency). Download excerpts from the book here, or order your own copy from Cabinet.
Brian Dillon Brian Dillon is UK editor of Cabinet and Tutor in Critical Writing at the Royal College of Art. He is editor of Ruins (MIT Press/Whitechapel Gallery, 2011) and author of Sanctuary (Sternberg Press, 2011). His book Tormented Hope: Nine Hypochondriac Lives (Penguin, 2009), published in the US asThe Hypochondriacs (Faber and Faber, 2010), was shortlisted for the Wellcome Trust Book Prize. His first book, In the Dark Room (Penguin, 2005), won the Irish Book Award for non-fiction. Dillon writes regularly for Artforum, frieze, Art Review, the Guardian, the London Review of Books, and the Wire. A collection of his essays, Culture and Curiosity, will be published by Sternberg Press in 2012. He is working on Blown All to Nothing, the story of an explosion at a gunpowder works in Kent in 1916. Brian Dillon was born in Dublin in 1969 and lives in Canterbury, Kent.
Contributors came to the occasion from their own rooms, and many brought documentation: below, a collection of such spaces, some from Dillon's book, some from contributors' lives, some real, some imaginary, beginning with the scene of the 24-Hour Book itself.