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The Writhing Society meets to practice and discuss the techniques of constrained writing. We practice the methods invented by ourselves and by other writers, artists, musicians, and mathematicians. Today's exercise: détournement.


As is traditional at the end of the year, we will be practicing détournement, a method of subverting combinations of text and image, political or commercial, to which you object. Advertisements, posters, graphic novels or comic strips, all of these are fair game. We often work with comic strips, where the text is enclosed in dialogue balloons (or thought balloons). One classic form of détournement, much used by the French groups the Lettrists and the Situationists during political demonstrations in the 60s and 70s, erases the text in the balloons and replaces it with different text that drastically changes the tone and sense of the whole comic strip. Most advertisements combine image and text. The example you'll see if you follow the link above shows what once was a Marlboro ad, after some letters were erased and another one altered. There will be a supply of text & image on hand. Do feel free to bring your own image-text combos.


The Writhing Society combines a class with a salon. In a two-hour session, you can expect a few minutes of introductions and explanations, an hour plus of silent writing, and a half-hour or so in which we will read our work aloud. Then, if there's a little time left for questions and discussion, we'll do that. If you know nothing about writing with constraints, if you do not think of yourself as knowing much about writing, come anyway. No prior knowledge required. This is nothing like your ordinary writing workshop. We work in a relaxed, supportive, playful atmosphere, and we welcome new members.


What are constraints? Constraints are rules, specific and arbitrary, that drive you to say what you hadn’t expected to say in ways you never would have chosen to say it. Constrained writing always involves a collaboration of languages: yours and someone else’s. It allows you to take directions from something outside yourself. In a world where forms of expression thought to be “free” in fact come ready-made from the discourses of powerful groups, composing with constraints becomes a disciplined practice for escape, from these or from oneself, and a source of fresh ideas.

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