The Book As Antfarm

March 27, 2011 § 3 Comments


Some weeks ago, the always interesting editor and writer Philip Graham posted to his blog a fascinating comparison between diptych and triptych paintings and the form of Shakespeare’s plays.

This week, though, he outdoes himself with a look at ant colonies and the structure of various books, including Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler.

Here’s a brief quote from Graham’s blog entry, before you click the link to read the entire wonderful blog-essay:

Each ant colony is a formal, planned shape, built to contain the teeming life within … All structure leans toward elegance, I believe, even when it might at first seem a little lop-sided. Examining closely a book’s architecture will reveal much of its meaning as well … We build our books in much the way different species of ants construct their underground homes, with an astonishing variety of invention. And so the shape of our stories and poems and essays become personal mirrors that reflect our secret selves.

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§ 3 Responses to The Book As Antfarm

  • I love this analogy. So structure’s important to the book-in-progress, but I wonder how much the writer should trust herself to let it come about organically, or how much she should plan that structure…

  • Thedesertrocks says:

    Cute analogy, except a division needs to be addressed between worker ants, fire ants and army ants.
    I think I’ve met a few of the agented, fired up ones and the braggadocio, self-published, enamored army ones…while working on my colonized version of romance.

    • You’re right about those army ants, they are a breed apart.
      My first time in Africa, one of the villages I lived in was almost overwhelmed by the advance of a huge army ant column. The villagers managed to create a perimeter of ash and embers from their evening hearth fires, which caused the ants to alter their path. Otherwise, those critters would have picked the village clean.
      Hmmm, maybe army ants are like . . . literary critics?

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