Archive for May, 2020

A mist-enveloped tangle

The aim: “I want to bring this back into the realm of learning to read; expanding and enriching reading; making the work of reading visible.” (21-Mar-2020)

A byproduct:

The intention was attentive and active reading of Lines by Tim Ingold. To me, fascinating stuff. For example: “Apprehending words as they are seen on paper, both motionless and open to prolonged inspection, we readily perceive them as objects with an existence and meaning quite apart from their sounding in acts of speech.” While for those in a culture of ‘primary orality’, where writing is unknown: “For them words are their sounds, not things conveyed by sounds.” Interested in sculpture|objects, in the material expression of abstract ideas, in understanding the poetic… Ingold seemed to be speaking to all of this.

Except that large chunks were absolutely incomprehensible to me. I tried to read a bit wider, to backfill knowledge, get some context. Sauserre, linguistics, semiotics, literary theory …  in them a vortex of words I thought I knew swirling and multiplying, morphing into strange, fabulous, disturbing forms that meant nothing to me.

So – time for active reading. I took a page of Ingold’s text, swirled and distorted it in gimp, took the printout and folded it to create a structured, visually readable form.

Let’s look again, this time with some light showing through.

Sadly, I was not enlightened.

Maybe up close.

It doesn’t help. Still nothing. Still straining to read … something.

The folding was fun. It took me back to OCA folding exercises. Could it be an additional transformation in reading Anne Carson’s Candor? Within that reading so far there had been printmaking (25-Feb-2020) and manipulation (1-Mar-2020).

The same simple fold could suggest a well, a cocoon or cage, a cuff or choker (do I mean jewellery?), the domestic cup of tea…

And while doing this, I lost my bearings. Ingold remained enticing and impenetrable.

I was trying to change how I read, and learnt  the act of reading has changed fundamentally over time, changing the way people think of, understand, and interact with the world. “For readers of medieval times, the text was like a world one inhabits, and the surface of the page like a country in which one finds one’s way about, following the letters and words as the traveller follows footsteps or waymarkers in the terrain. For modern readers, by contrast, the text appears imprinted upon the blank page much as the world appears imprinted upon the paper surface of a cartographic map, ready-made and complete. To follow the plot is like navigating with the map.” Ingold quotes Leclerq: – “One was expected to read a text, … ‘with one’s whole being: with the body, since the mouth pronounced it, with the memory that fixes it, with the intelligence that understands its meaning and with the will which desires to put it into practice’. Thus reading was, at one and the same time, both an ‘acting out’ and a ‘taking in’.”

Other writers added new paths in the labyrinth.

  • Michael Taussig in I swear I saw this: “In this threshold situation, language opens up such that sound and image, image and sound, intepenetrated with automatic precision and such facility that no chink was left for the penny-in-the-slot called ‘meaning’.” Taussig explores at length the use of drawing in addition to / companion to writing in his field notebook. If I understand correctly, he finds writing acts to erase memory. In re-reading, it is drawings and the spaces of what is not written that triggers recall.
  • Jane Hirshfield, Ten Windows, brings in the body and emotion of the moment. “Poetry’s words can be ink- and sound-stored stably, then, but the poem itself cannot. It is the score to a music for which we are instrument and audience both, held in the procedures of its making.” Snatched phrases among much more that is relevant, “… cognition’s own beginnings, in the construction and discernment of patterns” and “Resonant, fragrant, traveling more than one direction at a time, poetic speech escapes narrowing abstraction and reification as richly as does life itself.”
  • In an essay by John Berger: “The repeated lines of words and music are like paths.”
  • Via TS Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral and Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad I was taken to the chorus. For a while I was carefully differentiating, then realised the Greek chorus often included movement and repetition, so not far from the dancing chorus line or the structure and repetition of a song chorus.
  • Italo Calvino in Six memos for the next millenium contributed “…Hermes/Mercury, god of communication and mediation, who under the name of Thoth invented writing, and who as the ‘Spirit of Mercury’ also represents… the principle of individuation.” I saw something like that elsewhere – that moving from the primarily external stimulus of orality to the private internal world of reading allowed a sense of the individual self to develop. (which comes first – the need, the technology, the response/change???) Calvino also provided a quote from Galileo – “to praise the greatest human invention, the alphabet.”
  • In Eros: the bittersweet, Anne Carson: “Oral cultures and literate cultures do not think, perceive, or fall in love in the same way.” Carson sees a common thread: “The archaic age was in general a time of change, unrest and reordering. In politics with the rise of the polis, in economics with the invention of coinage, in poetics with the study by lyric poets of precise moments in personal life, and in communications technology with the introduction of the Phoenician alphabet to Greece.” A breaking down into units that could be used building something larger and more general.
  • Jen Bervin, speaking of her work Silk Poems in a video by Charlotte Legarde: “One thing that was very important in the development of the poem itself was the lineage of Islamic textiles and manuscripts and within Islam you have a restriction on the use of the image so the letter and the word has a lot of responsibility to bear in communicating complex ideas and one thing that informed the poem a great deal is that collapse of scale, how you’ll see a large letter but it’s actually composed of smaller letters. That definitely comes from Islam.”
  • From the snippets in Walter Benjamin’s Archive, of visual attack on the senses of advertisements, signage, posters. The use of text:
    “Deposited in the letters of the metal or enameled signboards is a precipitate of all the forms of writing that have ever been used in the West.” “…broadsheets… which squander dozens of different alphabets in disguising an open invitation.” “Still color, the first drops of a shower of letters ran down the walls of houses (today it pours unremittingly, and and night, on the big cities) and was greeted like the plagues of Egypt.”
  • In all this movement there is also the extravagant use of language by authors. Umberto Eco (on literature) of James Joyce: “the language of all peoples, ground down to a vortex of free-floating fragments, are put together again and then deconstructed once more in a whirlwind of new lexical monstrosities, which coagulate for a second only to dissolve once more…”
  • In this cacophony I tried to get an overview using the dense fabric of wikipedia – entries on Orality, Writing Systems, Print Culture, quite a few others – before taking a desperate step back when I risked being mired in theory and academia.

Thinking of writing as technology feels new to me. The cultural changes that caused and/or responded to changes in communication technology – from primary orality, through the introduction of the alphabet and script, the printing press, electronic media… the movement from song and sound to sounded reading to silent reading… the shapes of letters and lines…

I have all of the books quoted above. I think I’ve finished one of them. Attempting to contain detail, to get a coherent view of all I have been reading and thinking about led to a major redevelopment of my notetaking and blogging practice. Not a story for today, but it is that collation and adding of metadata that has allowed me to get even this far in the tangle.

I had to hack away the undergrowth, the twining, strangling, enticing vines. I need to find my waymakers, make my path.

What do I return to, what gives me energy, arouses my curiosity? What in all this (and all I didn’t include above) do I want to explore further?

  • The poetic
  • The line
  • Pattern 
  • Balance | boundary | threshold | provisional | uncertainty
  • Materiality – objects, ideas (???)
  • How I work – in particular lately:
    * reading
    * notebook 
    * data viz and literacy

If the history of communication technology can be described as

Orality | Script | Print | Electronic

and in each mode there is/was a correspondence to different ways to think, feel and see, what could happen if I treat chronology and concepts of “progress” as irrelevant? Instead at least some aspects of each could be seen as tools or techniques, ways of living, with different strengths and weaknesses. Then can I pick and choose between modes? Prise ideas and assumptions open by switching modes?

Add to that the toolsets or modes I was already trying to move between

Reading | Writing | Drawing | Data viz | Making

Deliberately tangling up modes, using them in different ways, eg printmaking
– as reading [tool to aid comprehension]
– as exploring ideas [technique to extend out]

If all this seems confused, verbose, self-indulgent… I’m not disagreeing. But it feels good to have said something out loud. I have a mud-map of a terrain. Good enough for now.


Calendar of Posts

May 2020
M T W T F S S
 123
45678910
11121314151617
18192021222324
25262728293031

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Archives

Categories