The life of Henri Fournier, now better known by his pen name, spun round a single, sunny afternoon in 1905, described in Robert Gibson’s valuable biography “The End of Youth”. Leaving an art exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris, when he was 18, he spotted a young woman walking with an older lady. Captivated, he followed them across the river to the door of a Left Bank apartment, afterwards returning to the building whenever his studies would allow. Too timid to knock, he paced the streets outside. Ten days later he saw the girl again—walking unaccompanied to mass—and approached her. Wary but flattered, she agreed to stroll with him by the Seine.
He told her he was a writer (or that he would be one day), the son of a country schoolmaster, now studying in Paris. She told him her name was Yvonne de Quiévrecourt, and that she was staying in the city with relatives, but leaving the next day. At her request they separated at the Pont des Invalides. Waiting where she left him, Fournier saw her look back twice. Years later he was still decoding this gesture: “Was it because, silently, from a distance, she wanted to reinforce her order that I should not follow her? Or was it to let me see her face one more time?”
The library will endure; it is the universe. As for us, everything has not been written; we are not turning into phantoms. We walk the corridors, searching the shelves and rearranging them, looking for lines of meaning amid leagues of cacophony and incoherence, reading the history of the past and of the future, collecting our thoughts and collecting the thoughts of others, and every so often glimpsing mirrors, in which we may recognize creatures of the information. —James Gleick, Information
…all of us use the power of music in this way, and setting words to music, especially in pre-literate cultures, has played a huge role in relation to the oral traditions of poetry, storytelling, liturgy, and prayer. Whole books can be held in memory—The Iliad and the Odyssey, famously could be recited at length, because, like ballads, they had rhythm and rhyme. How much such recitation depends on musical rhythm and how much purely on linguistic rhyming is hard to tell, but these are surely related—both “rhyme” and “rhythm” derive from the Greek, carrying the conjoined meanings of measure, motion and stream. An articulate stream, a melody or prosody, is necessary to carry one along, and this is something that unites language and music, and may underline perhaps their common origins.
The embedding of words, skills or sequences in melody and meter are uniquely human. The usefulness of such an ability to recall large amounts of information, especially in a pre-literate culture, is surely one reason why musical abilities have flourished in our species. —Musicophila by Oliver Sacks, pp. 259-260
The good thing about writing books is that you can dream while you are awake. If it’s a real dream, you cannot control it. When writing the book, you are awake; you can choose the time, the length, everything. I write for four or five hours in the morning and when the time comes, I stop. I can continue the next day. If it’s a real dream, you can’t do that.
—Haruki Murakami, The Paris Review
Murakami rises at 4am on most mornings, writes until noon, spends the afternoon training for marathons and browsing through old record stores and turns in, with his wife, at 9pm. As a regime, it is almost as famous as his novels and has the clean, fanatical air of a correction to the mess of his 20s. It is also the kind of discipline necessary to crank out 1,000 complicated pages in three years.
To Murakami, built like a little bull, it’s a question of strength. “It’s physical. If you keep on writing for three years, every day, you should be strong. Of course you have to be strong mentally, also. But in the first place you have to be strong physically. That is a very important thing. Physically and mentally you have to be strong.”
So Teller rigged a thread in his home library, and he put Abbott’s ancient instructions on a music stand — pages that had been miraculously saved from a trash fire years before — and he went to work on making the impossible seem real. Eventually, he decided that the ball shouldn’t float but roll. That would look simpler, but it would be harder. He practiced some more at a mirrored dance studio in Toronto, and at a cabin deep in the woods, and on the empty stage in Penn & Teller’s theater. After every show for eighteen months, he would spend at least an hour, by himself, trying to make the Red Ball obey. (“Sometimes magic is just someone spending more time on something than anyone else might reasonably expect,” Teller says.) “I have to screw around,” he told those four audiences, “to sniff the scent of an idea and track it down like a wild boar in the forest. “It’s still the hardest-to-execute piece of magic I’ve ever tried. In six months or a year, it will start to settle into my bones. In ten years, it’ll be perfect.
I write the first draft quickly. If there’s a hole, there’s a hole. The second version is generally very long, detailed, and complete. There are no more holes, but it’s a bit dry. In the third draft I try to regain the spontaneity of the first, and to retain what is essential from the second. — Gunter Grass, Paris Review Interview