The ‘I’ in Killing Time – probably none other than a rambling, resourceful, ineffective, insensitive, forgetful investigative reporter – possibly a reporter dabbling as private eye, lay counsel or spiritual leader, possibly becoming a criminal and con in the course of narration.
While browsing the books and looking out for resonance to select sentences to include, there is a constant tension between wanting to ‘transport’ the source and the thrill of seeing its fragments become something else in the context that slowly builds up. I think it is worth being aware of the aggressive element in the method. Even those books that seem stylistically poor have a life in them that seems to form something akin to a mould, a negative form, an after-image of the author. I feel myself drawn in – today, I read Noel Fellowes‘ account of his fear to be ‘shived’ by the cons in the prison once it would transpire that he was an ex-copper. I felt the fear he describes. I became unable to ‘look out for sentences’ that would fit.
Re-using any such sentence in a new context that goes against the grain of the original context creates a thrill that always also has a whiff of abuse. Sure, one can just assume the air of the cool appropriation artist and point at numerous examples where stuff has been recontextualised (loads of examples can be found in ‘Against Expression‘). Indeed, I believe that all the effort to get clearance for my re-use is probably unnecessary from a legal perspective, considering the remote likelihood of any libel against my recontextualisation. But I realise that I also identify with each of the numerous authors, including authors of those books I don’t enjoy much.
None of the books received so far seems as ill suited for inclusion in my ‘Killing time’ project as Dave Lindorff‘s investigation onto the death row case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. As I read it to grapple with the problem and determine a solution, I lose the cursory distance which generally makes lifting and re-contextualising individual sentences easier.
Not only is it a third person account and therefore more difficult to integrate into a first-person narrative – the same is true for Conley‘s, Berger‘s, and Brady‘s (i.e., Harvey‘s) books. It also has quite long sentences most of which are studded with the legal terminology in which the case is so competently analysed. Sentences from quotations of court room reports, witness accounts etc may be somewhat easier to use. But the question remains whether the book should better be left alone, or whether the apparent difficulty might actually add something important to the overall result.
Other sources with a similar topic, such as Hollway‘s and Gauthier‘s report about John Thompson’s 18-year death row odyssee, are far easier to integrate due to extensive narrative reconstruction of the shooting event, including the relevant moments in the lives of important witnesses. In Lindorff’s book, much of the reconstruction is embedded in analysis. I also wonder how I will deal with the long relative clauses that are often embedded in the main clause. I am not ready just to remove them – this seems a bit too much tampering with the source.
I guess I must solve the problem by trial, and decide later.