Narrative, Database, Archive: Tom Comitta and Deidre Lynch

Narrative, Database, Archive: Tom Comitta and Deidre Lynch

“How I made the book determined the story that was created … Once you have enough of something, a narrative can emerge.”

12 tables; 300 novels, 1,500 pages of nature description: This is how Tom Comitta created The Nature Book, a one-of-a-kind novel cut from 300 years of English literary tradition. It has no human characters, no original writing, and it is astoundingly good! Tom sits down with distinguished Harvard professor, Deidre Lynch, and host Aarthi Vadde to talk about how they wrote a book out of found language. The conversation reveals why The Nature Book is so compelling: it scrambles the usual distinctions between narrative and database. It is fast-paced, propulsive, full of cliffhangers and yet also a “mood collage” composed of macro, micro, and nanopatterns that Tom identified in their corpus. Writing through a complex set of Oulipo-like constraints, they checked their own authorial freedom to create a book in which the human hand becomes distant and ghostly—its traces felt in the change of seasons and at the bottoms of oceans yet nowhere seen.

Deidre connects Tom’s “literary supercut” (their own term for their practice) to the centuries-old tradition of commonplacing in which ordinary readers would cut and paste favored passages into books that then became archives of personal experience and collective memory. The Nature Book thus finds its place in a countercultural tradition of authorship where recycling takes precedence over invention. Copying, curation, and rearrangement become a novelistic style of “degrowth” in which writers discover that, in lieu of developing new language, they can plumb the depths of our already existing language. The episode ends with a series of surprising answers to the signature question: narratives and databases cross paths with hookups and keepsakes!



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View a transcript of the episode here.



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