Until 1870, the carriage ruled the streets. On the narrow sidewalks, the pedestrian was extremely cramped, and so strolling took place principally in the arcades, which offered protection from bad weather and traffic. “Our larger streets and our wider sidewalks are suited to the sweet flanerie was impossible except in the arcades.” Flaneur, Edmond Beaurepaire, Paris d’hier et d’aujourd’hui: La Chronique de rues (Paris 1900), p.67.

– Quoted in Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, Harvard University Press

What is a writer actually doing? I put forward as a general proposition that any artist – and I include all creative thinkers – they are trying to make the viewer, the reader, the student aware of what he knows and doesn’t know that he knows.

– William S. Burroughs [1]

[1] Extract from :The William S. Burroughs Workshop – Jack Kerouac Conference, Naropa University, Bolder Colorado, July 23, 1982 – as Transcribed from the Original Audio Recording by Marcus D. Niski as found at https://archive.org/details/WilliamS.BurroughsOnWriting

Why did I write it down? In order to remember, of course, but exactly what was it I wanted to remember? How much of it actually happened? Did any of it? Why do I keep a notebook at all? The impulse to write things down is a peculiarly compulsive one, inexplicable to those who do not share it …

But our notebooks give us away, for however dutifully we record what we see around us, the common denominator of all we see is always, transparently, shamelessly, the implacable “I”…

On Keeping a Notebook (1966) by Joan Didion in Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Penguin, 1974  (first published 1968).

“My intention… was to describe… that which is not taken note of, that which has no importance: what happens when nothing happens other than the weather, people, cars, and clouds.”

Georges Perec in An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris

“ In 1969, I chose, in Paris, twelve places (streets, squares, circuses, an arcade), where I had lived or else was attached by particular memories.

I have undertaken to write a description of two of these places each month. One of these descriptions is written on the spot and is meant to be as neutral as possible. Sitting in a café or walking in the street, notebook in hand, I do my best to describe…”

Georges Perec in Species of Space and Other Pieces

“ The people in the streets: where are they coming from? Where are they going to? Who are they?”

Georges Perec in Species of Space and Other Pieces

Quotations from My Writer’s Notebooks

Over a long period of time now, I’ve collected a huge range of quotations and aphorisms from my reading and research that I’ve written down by hand in my notebooks, as well as engaging in the almost daily practice of writing my own observations and aphorisms – I suspect Paul Valery would be proud of my efforts indeed!

While I’ve made a sustained personal effort, Valery was undoubtedly one of the most prolific notebook writers of all time.

For those readers who are unfamiliar with his work, Valery was a master of observation and notetaking as the 29 published volumes of his Cahiers (notebooks) attest to:

 “Every morning he would get up at around five o’clock and write meditations, notes, and speculations in small volumes that he intended for no one but himself. There were more than 250 of these notebooks at the end of his life, and they are not only now available in published form, but are, ironically, among the most important and most read—most public—of his writings…” – Paul Valéry 1871–1945

Here are some of my favorite quotations and aphorisms on place, space, and writing from my collection of writers notebooks – particularly those around the themes of seeing, noticing and observing – the stuff of all great observational and literary writing whether about cities or otherwise …

Marcus D. Niski,  May 2017