13 March 1911
Illustration: Black & White
“Adam Smyth’s exemplar of E. M. Forster’s ‘only connect’ makes its own atmosphere from shreds and patches of a single day in history so that unconnectedness itself is the common factor that brings minutiae of humour, big names and small, world events and parochial incidents together in a rich and colourful tapestry that causes us to muse on every day there has ever been and the kaleidoscope that would reward his kind of affectionate research.” – Tom Phillips, CBE, RA and author of A Humument (Thames & Hudson)
“13 March 1911 is a starkly succinct collage work that weaves together intriguing fragments of found text, all of which relate to this unremarkable day in history. Long forgotten newspaper articles are juxtaposed with extracts from personal letters, theatre reviews and advertiser’s announcements. Classified personal ads reveal the needs, aspirations and poignant losses of their authors. These ultra-short stories, honed to perfection, resonate with lyrical intensity. Though the words themselves are gathered from a hundred authors, Adam Smyth makes them entirely his own. He is unquestionably the author of this work, not merely the curator of its components. Like all great writers, Smyth makes the very best of what is not there. The absence of peripheral information – sometimes withheld, sometimes unknown – is pressed into action as a narrative device, inviting the reader to make connections. The effect is gloriously impressionistic: sketchy, unrelated brushstrokes that come together to paint a richly evocative and seemingly complete portrait of the day. In the hands of a lesser author, this composition might fall short, but Smyth selects, edits and juxtaposes the material with a masterful touch. I found 13 March 1911 utterly compelling. I did not want this day to end.” – Graham Rawle, author of Woman’s World (Atlantic Books), & Overland (Chatto & Windus)
“Reflecting on the process behind The Arcades Project, Walter Benjamin once wrote: “Whomever digs through the past as if it were a store full of examples and analogies has no idea how much depends, at any given moment, on the making present of the past.” Like Benjamin, collating his volume of fragments, in the process of writing 13 March 1911 Adam Smyth trawled through newspapers from 13 March 1911, the day his grandfather was born, to create a unique archive of his grandfather’s present. At times nostalgic, at times funny, Smyth’s little book of seemingly unconnected fragments is as much a statement on Smyth’s grandfather and Smyth’s memory of him, as it is an investigation into the complex nature of history and memory. In Smyth’s elegant volume, remembering takes place without, or perhaps, outside of memory and Smyth’s role in its process is that of a Benjaminian collector, meticulously assembling stories. This is writing as collage, writing in the Pound tradition, writing evocative of Eliot’s painstaking footnoting technique which returns to the tradition of early twentieth century montage. Repeating the modernist gesture in a poetic transformation of sources appropriated here, Smyth makes them his grandfather’s and his own at the same time. In this new context, the collage of disparate fragments becomes an archive, a story, and a diary of sorts; a deeply personal reflection and a poignant meditation on the (im)possibility of remembering.”- Dr Kaja Marczewska, Research Fellow in Postdigital Cultures at Coventry University and author of This is Not a Copy (Bloomsbury Academic)
“A newspaper advert from a widow, with a 2 1/2 year old boy, wanting to be a housekeeper; a Paris seance; a note in which Captain Scott worries he is too far from the South Pole and his dogs are tired; a scientific confirmation that the sun rose in Manchester at 06:22 … These are a few of the multiple events that left documentary traces of 13 March 1911. Brilliantly assembled in this personally motivated but impressively depersonalised text, such glimpses prompt thought about what our knowledge of the past really is. The glimpses invite provocative questions: what kind of sense does historical narrative make? And what kind of justice to experienced history does narrative, as opposed to collage, do? Smyth’s absorbing text allows us to sense something of the lived experience of a day in history that cannot merely be compressed into a story.” – Francis O’Gorman, Saintsbury Professor of English Literature, University of Edinburgh and author of the Bloomsbury titles, Worrying: A Literary and Cultural History and Forgetfulness: Making the Modern Culture of Amnesia.
“Outsourcing biography, 13 March, 1911 tests the limits of the contextual, the coincidental, and the synchronic with a radical new historicism. But in place of thick description, a conceptual scaffolding structures the story with a strict chronology. Pairing Sternean genetology and Joycean methodology, Smyth records the pure exteriority into which every life shatters.” – Professor Craig Dworkin, University of Utah and author of Reading the Illegible (Northwestern University Press) and No Medium (MIT Press)
“Expanding on Perec’s proposition of the ‘infra-ordinary’, ‘Monday…’ presents a beguiling elegy for the most mundane of days. Defying traditional presumptions of significance, Smyth retrieves and resurrects the lost tan whippets or the teenager struck down by the Wigan-to-Southport express from the point at which their ephemeral impact on the world is threatening to flicker to nothing. Reeling his inherently personal and increasingly frayed thread, Smyth collates a blueprint for the exploitation of each of our own inexhaustible histories, and their attendant inconsequence. Yet like Perec, Smyth finds much to celebrate in such apparent banalities: ‘Monday’ is an edifying reminder of the extent to which our pasts still shape us, and the gems to be uncovered in their most routine of excavations.” – Mark Staniforth, Boxing Correspondent for the Press Association
Adam Smyth is Professor of English Literature and the History of the Book at Balliol College, Oxford University. He works on the intersection of the literary and the material, the archival and the canonical, particularly (but not exclusively) in the early modern period. He has written three monographs – Material Texts in Early Modern England (Cambridge University Press, 2018); Autobiography in Early Modern England (Cambridge University Press, 2010); Profit and Delight: Printed Miscellanies in England, 1640-1682 (Wayne State University Press, 2004). He co-edited, with Juliet Fleming and William Sherman, a special edition of the Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (2015) on ‘Renaissance Collage: Towards a New History of Reading’, exploring knives, scissors and glue as tools of reading. He writes regularly for the London Review of Books.
13 March 1911
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