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It figures

In the Dec/Jan issue of Literary Review Frances Wilson opens in Pulpit with a piece on Titanoraks. The centenary of the Titanic is April 2012 and Wilson has a book due out in time - but then so do plenty of others, keen to capitalise on the widespread hunger of the tragedy that still exists, even for those who learned of it only through Winslet and di Caprio. Wilson likens Titanorachia (?) to a relationship that just won't let the other party let go. What I found interesting though is the fascination of the figures surrounding the journey - both before, during, and after - as Wilson charts, noting, for instance, the number of cooks on board the fateful liner. She suggests that the story could be replaced with the key figures:

14 April 1912
46,000 tons
882.75 feet long
22 knots
300 foot gash
20 lifeboats
1,178 people on board
705 survivors

The figures presented this way present as compelling a narrative as any words - and the moment builds to the final, sinking figure. I read this piece yesterday morning, whilst killing time before 1:30pm - time of viva - and trying to keep my mind focussed on anything else but what I thought I would be asked. But when I was in there the issue of lists arose when I was asked why I had inserted a long article from a 19th century newspaper into my creative work. My rationale was not only to show the insertion - that it was factual - but also because of the figures that the article was concerned with. It is basically a piece in which Feargus O'Connor reprints the crowd attendance figures of a Chartist meeting, stated by a mainstream newspaper the day before. He refutes the figures as being on the low side - an attempt at downplaying the movement's support. I felt that it was a story in itself - and one which is still with us; a story that also reveals the position of power - of forming the perspective of their readers - through the crafty use of figures.


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