Friday, January 4, 2008

What is 60x50?

"A writer is not so much someone who has something to say as he is someone who has found a process that will bring about new things he would not have thought of if he had not started to say them. That is, he does not draw on a reservoir; instead, he engages in an activity that brings to him a whole process of unforeseen stories, poems, essays, plays [and] laws..."
--William Stafford, Writing the Australian Crawl

60x50 isn't so much of a blog as it is an experiment in invention. By "invention" I mean something similar to what invention has always meant, "discovery." William Stafford means much the same thing in the quotation above, taken from his book Writing the Australian Crawl. The existence of this blog is dedicated to Stafford's insight that a writer "is someone who has found a process that will bring about new things he would not have thought of if he had not started to say them."

It is this idea which informs 60x50. So what, precisely, does the title of this blog, 60x50, mean? "60" refers to the year 1960, and "50" is the approximation of my age. Saying it out loud, you'd say "sixty by fifty." I was originally going to call my blog "60x60," but since I'm closer to 50 years of age at the moment than to sixty years, I called it 60x50 instead.

The year 1960? Why the year 1960? What's so significant or important about the year 1960? Is this an "historical" blog? What possibly could be so compelling about a blog devoted to the year 1960? The answer is, I don't know yet. This is a blog devoted to discovery.

My goal isn't to document the year 1960 so much as to make the year 1960 a means of invention, a way of inventing things to write about. Frankly, it's as good as any other year (or method of invention, for that matter) to write about, and while I was a five year old boy who turned six years old in June 1960, I don't remember it well, so it's not a year I know much about--which, I'm happy to say, violates a conventional rule about writing, that you should know something about the subject you're writing about. I'm not much interested in having the mass media choose my topics for me (sometimes called "newsworthiness"), so I decided to invent another.

Actually, I'd like to take credit for inventing the idea of using a specific year as a means of invention, but I can't. The famous Surrealist, André Breton (pictured above) pioneered the method, as he thought the initials of his name, AB, written in longhand, resembled the numbers in the year 1713 (imagine the letter A written like the letter H except closed on top, or the number 1 and the number 7 written with a strike-through). Intrigued by the resemblance, he began to research extensively the year 1713, believing that in the course of his investigation he could find out something about himself and his identity. Another Surrealist, Salvador Dali, called this form of research "paranoid-critical." So this blog is, as it were, based on the Surrealist method of being paranoid-critical. There's nothing in my initials that suggests a specific year to me, although the number 6 has always been highly significant to me in a Bretonian way, since each of the names that form my complete "proper name" has 6 letters in it, or 6-6-6. Spooky. I turned six years old in the 6th month (June) of 1960. Six years from 1960 is 1966 (double 6s) when I turned 12 years old (6 + 6), and six years after that, in 1972, I graduated from high school. 1972=1(9) + (7+2) or 9 + 9 or 18, or 6 + 6 + 6. I'd like to say I graduated high school at age 18, but I didn't. I was only 17--but very close to 18!

But again, why 1960? The inspiration for the method of 60x50 came from Breton, but the year itself is, in part, indebted to two books about Elvis Presley, who recorded his first, historic songs the summer I was born. (In fact, the first records at Sun were recorded only about two weeks after I was born.) One book, by Megan Murphy, is entitled Elvis is Back (Elvis Unlimited Productions, 2007), a day-by-day reconstruction of the year Elvis returned from Germany and was discharged from the Army--1960. And, as all Elvis fans know, there's a book by Peter Guralnick and Ernst Jorgensen entitled Elvis Day By Day (Ballantine, 1999) that's more ambitious in scope than Megan Murphy's Elvis is Back in that it tries to render Elvis's entire life day by day, not just one year in his life. Elvis was born in 1935, or 1 + 9 + 3 + 5=18 (or 6 + 6 + 6). I was born in 1954, or 1(9) + (5 + 4)=18 (or...).

So my idea is not entirely original, although perhaps my specific inventive method--using the year 1960--is so. I would like to emphasize, however, that I am not a Positivist, in the sense that if I merely accumulate enough data (in this case, dates and events), the world, miraculously, becomes meaningful. It is only the narrative--the cause and effect relationships--that one puts on these dates and places that makes all this data meaningful, although I hope to illuminate more about myself (and the world) than simply a novel way of constructing a narrative of recent history.

Will I stop once I reach December 31, 1960. I don't know. Perhaps I'll never reach that date at all in this blog. But if I do, perhaps I'll continue on into 1961, or maybe begin with a different year, I don't know, but in any case, I hope the results of this experiment in invention are not uninteresting.

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