City of Nature (working title) is a novel-in-progress that collects nature descriptions from canonical novels and collages them into a single nature novel. With the environmental background brought to the fore, characters, buildings, and other human marks disappear, giving center stage to chirping birds, trotting horses, and the whale from Moby-Dick. “Yawning” caves and “shrieking” winds even take on character-like qualities.
I first imagined the book in 2012 when I saw this video by artist Kota Ezawa that collages nature scenes from feature length movies into a short rotoscoped animation. I wondered what a similar procedure using novels might reveal about language, the histories of the novel, and Literary Realism. In novel form what kind of plot might arise from what is usually background information, introductory content, or denouement? What does this information tell us? What voices and patterns might emerge?
Doubling as a kind of data analysis, the book documents how novelists drag nature through the peaks and troughs of human drama. Clouds and rain bring gloom (“the ground sobbed”–D.H. Lawrence) and thunder brings rage, but then the sun always returns with a “smile” (unless you’re in the desert on a particularly hot day). Because my research has revolved around the link between Literary Realism and the Anthropocene, I focus primarily on novels written since 1700.
While no part of the book itself has been published, a number of studies have appeared online and in print. Study 2 can be read at Dusie.com and The Home School’s website. An interview by poet Caleb Beckwith detailing an earlier draft of this book can be found here in the Conversant.
In 2016, after three years of writing studies and collecting nature descriptions, I began to write this book during a three-month residency at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Art in Omaha, Nebraska. More writing followed at a residency in September 2016 at Little Paper Planes in San Francisco and since then at my office/studio in L.A.
Below is 360-degree view of how I wrote this book at the Bemis Center as well as a short documentary of Anna Garner’s and my work. The documentary also captures how I wrote this book at the Bemis Center.
The first image above was taken by Colin Conces. © Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts