Conclusion to Walking Backwards into a Room
Published in August 2022
The challenge of titling this book is the challenge of titling anything: you want the name to fit the thing, without reducing the thing. This was especially the case after a year of collaboration and correspondence.
We considered “wanderthoughts,” relating it to the walks we took while calling each other from far away. There was “walking thoughts”—walking as both transitive and intransitive: thoughts that occur on walks, and thoughts able to walk themselves.
The ideas felt too catchy and neat, so we began to look at other people’s words about wandering, walking, thinking. Incidentally wandering upon the words of others seemed to suit the project.
This led to the poem “Backwards” by Warsan Shire, which begins:
The poem can start with him walking backwards into a room.
Shire’s words made us think about the process of making this project as a kind of walking backwards—a certain blindness to what the book would become—a process and an object we built together—which we would end up producing or walking or falling into, backwards.
We see the origins of this project in a room: the exhibition space in the first floor of List Art Building, pictured throughout this book. But also a painting studio on the fifth floor studio at List, a carrel in the Rock, a room in that red Providence dollhouse.
In an interview about Kafka’s “The Burrow,” J.M. Coetzee explains: “The experience of writing a novel is, above all, lengthy. The novel becomes less a thing than a place where one goes every day for several hours for years on end.” In making this book, we had the sense of going somewhere, visiting a place each day.
On these visits, we found ourselves returning to where we were and would be as we collaborated from afar. Looking back, we see the book emerging from rooms, unfolding into walks, and then closing back into the room that it is.
There was a worry that walking “backwards” might have a negative connotation, a regressive motion compared against forward movement. But “backwards” might also mean going against the grain, following an alternative logic.
What emerged were not negative ideas, but practices like the directionless wandering the project often references. Like the Situationist dérive, wandering is a methodology of accidents and happenstance, of perceiving the environment openly. Backwards could represent a blindness to existing norms, questioning the direction the world expects.
We began thinking of backwards not as negative but a positive absence of pre-knowledge. This motion has the potential to happen upon an unknown, unexpected place. A room, like a book, is a place where you can go. Or walk into, backwards.
Published in Walking Backwards into a Room