Stack: Formal Considerations

the art of the stack (quick watercolor)

I admit that things have gotten a little out of hand. Since starting this project I’ve let myself go a bit, over-indulged. I used to make a conscientious effort in the name of harmony to limit myself, but apparently when given the slightest license I lose all perspective. What I mean is, the stacks are proliferating. As I look around the room where I do my writing, the piles seem to have sprung up of their own volition, or by the exertions of unseen forces.

At some point in the process of stacking one arrives organically at a critical mass. The question of capacity is personal one; the limits of readerly space, after all, are both concrete and abstract. How many piles can one accommodate in one’s rooms? How much open kitchen counter space is truly necessary? How viable is a stack of books as a pillow displacement? Also, intellectually, how many books can be kept going without muddling? At what point does the volume of reading material precipitate a sort of emptying out of worth, a loss of continuity?

Another question is, how much does the form of the stack contribute to the receptivity of the mind, or its organization? This is no small question. Is stack building equivalent to data flow structuring? Is the direction of my reading, as guided by the way I stack, forming connections that will become themselves directive? If this is the case, the formal implications of stacking (or any form of structured reading) might be substantial. If it can be assumed that reading alters experience, and if it can be said that experience is at least partly constitutive of an individual’s being, then it can be suggested that the decisions a reader makes about the directions of their inquiry can effect the ongoing synthesizing project of being. How much does how we read have to do with who we become?

A few possibilities:

The narrative stack. This pile occupies somewhat casual reading spaces like my bedside table and the table next to the reading chair. It usually consists of fiction and narrative non-fictions. What earns a book a spot in these piles is a light pace and the ease of absorbing their contents. With these books, the reading experience is more receptive than participatory. Which is to say, one’s participation is suspended until the work is concluded, and to this end, there are pencils nearby, and the scraps of paper that serve as bookmarks can also be used for note-taking. This reading is satisfying and comfortable, even when the material is provocative. This pile can be diverse and innovative. Unexpected connections can spark and catch, or new directions can be embarked upon. Or naps might be indulged in…

The genre stack. This pile is dominated by type, either general, like poetry or science fiction, or narrow, like the works of the Black Mountain Poets or of the Russian formalists. This pile is comparative by nature, united by ‘location’ but vibrant and various like any community. It constitutes a kind of commons, and it’s purpose is to establish familiarity. Reading through this stack is lively and its creation has a special appeal for the collector.

The research/topical stack. This pile often has both books and photocopies. It sometimes accommodates notebooks and loose notes. It is nearly always the case that quite a few page-markers have sprouted between the book pages within this stack. Sometimes a parent book, the one I initially began that motivated the acquisition of the other texts for illumination (books can be reproductive, or they rest on an implied or explicit foundation that one excavates by reading with curiosity, to acquire depth), sits on the top of the pile, supported materially and contextually by the works beneath it. A question is the germ of this stack, and to build it is to pursue understanding.

The scheduled stack. The motivation of this stack is a deadline. The deadline can be the date the book will be due back to the library, or returned to a friend, or read through for a project. Time and discipline guide this stack, and it is reconstituted as often as a work is finished or begun. Connections between the members of this stack are incidental, and often not closely marked as such. In this way, this stack is a loose gathering, like a crowd at a bus stop.

The inspirational stack. This pile’s work is to bring the reader to some sort of act or performance. It might center around a certain class of activity, like cooking or drawing, or it might function as an impetus for creativity in general. This stack is often composed of things that can be consumed in bites, such as monographs, cookbooks, or atlases. An analysis of the contents of this stack can clarify or reveal a creative direction, or even offer redirection. I find that the works that inhabit this pile are extremely conversive one with another, and my relationship to them, even when I am ready to shuffle or refresh the pile, feels pleasantly open and ongoing rather than relatively closed and complete. Does this imply something about the process of inspiration itself? Is there a sort of continual dialogue or layering in the process of creativity that is neither compartmentalized nor limited by boundary of any sort? What is it about a collection or the act of collecting that seems so near the source of creativity?

Because it’s already been so long since I last posted, and because it would be possible for me to continue indefinitely (what about linguistically structured piles? What about piles composed of a particular span of time irrespective of genre? etc…), I’ll leave the list open at this point in the hopes that it will encourage personal observation or even innovation (could we, for instance, observe that the dendrite is a form native to flow and somehow build a reading process in its image? Is the ideal form of the stack vertical or horizontal? What does this mean for the conventional bookshelf? How would a reading dynamic change if the stack was operated collaboratively by a group of readers? etc…).

In my first post, I offered the term “mindful reading” as a working descriptor of an optimal type of reading, but my thinking has outgrown it (can any sort of reading be called unmindful?). In this post, I have suggested that the way we read effects both the way we integrate what we read and the direction of our growth. The question is, then, what motivates or patterns our modes of organization? Am I caught in a sort of circular ruins of the reader who reads to create the reader who reads, or does the addition of new information via reading restructure the motivation/pattern enough to allow for new growth?

Blog Notes:
I truly apologize for the lengthy amount of time between this post and the last one. I admit that my curiosity almost always gets the better of me, and that I often cast myself too wide (personality themes are developing, you’ll notice) and need to pare away drag. It may also have become clear to you, as it has to me, that there is something in me that resists regularity of any sort. I can’t tell you how I wish this wasn’t the case, and how hard I constantly struggle against it. With this character flaw in mind I’m going to make another attempt in a series of endless attempts to find something that works; I will see if the idea of writing one post a week, no matter how trivial, will be manageable. It’s likely that this won’t be the last time I need to apologize for my absence, but I hope that these revisions convey my unwavering commitment to the project of this blog, and my understanding of its realization as a process.


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