How exquisite (corpse)! 1 Comment

Some friends and I were discussing writer’s block a couple of weeks ago, and at some point in the conversation pens were drawn and paper was attacked with literary vigour. We began playing ‘Exquisite Corpse’, a game – if it can even be called that – invented by the Surrealists whereby a collaborative work is produced without each participant being aware of what the others have contributed. There are many versions of the game, but in our case we divided a piece of paper into three and folded it equally, with each person writing on his/her respective sections of the page. To create linking triggers, each person wrote a single word (or, if unavoidable, phrase) on the next person’s section of the page and passed it on to him/her to continue. We repeated this several times and ended up with the following:

It was overcoat weather on 4th avenue, turned a corner and saw a tree, leaves falling, wind. The bracken crunched underfoot. He looked into the puddle. In his gumboots, one leg pulsating, and I fought my way, the loose change fell without supporting itself with the thin people who always watch. A young boy walked past crying, whoring his emotions as though wild pathos lifted in a soup dish spilled across the table and drenched in non-existent, bitter tears. I wanted for nothing less, but still: the chair, Isabelle’s hair and the square bear. They hold hands waltzing, plain as a tin drum bouncing down the stairs, landed upon the doorstep. The bear’s paws muddied, flaps of flogged planks endlessly tearing apart the thought of all the things he needed to do tomorrow.

To me the game embodied an accidental synchronisation of creative thought. And I wouldn’t have expected otherwise, for the Surrealists were all about tapping into the subconscious, after all. None of us told the others what he/she was writing (apart from the single trigger word/phrase), but each of us arguably shared an emotional and intellectual connection with the others. And despite the suspect nature of the subconscious – Freud is not as influential nowadays as in the time of the Surrealists – what we had created does seem to possess a central motif, an eerie flow.

I don’t deny there are obvious inconsistencies in tense and some syntax problems with what we had conjured. But overall there is something in that paragraph that I find magical. With some refinement, I am certain it could be developed into a beautiful short story or a prose poem. That, or we could use it as material for a Cut-up session. (More on Cut-ups later.)

  • Aaron Billings

    I only like my bits, you other two are lame.