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||| Organism - An exercise in Object Orientation |||
||| [part 1] ||| [part 2] |||
In the beginning was the word (preamble to writing)
In the beginning was the word and the word was God was a parasitic entity that enabled our early ancestors to communicate in ways more sophisticated than prior to its finding us. We embraced the word. We are its perfect host, throat and larynx suitable for parasitic manipulation to facilitate communication, and the word is so successful that it is now has a symbiotic relationship with us. The word was God and the word was flesh. Symbiosis was always intended… and Jesus was the word made flesh. The parasite showed its teeth, walked among us and bragged of its victory. As the Church of the SubGenius state, "Yes! Jehovah *is* an Alien and still threatens this planet!" 1
Take a long hard look at words. The purpose of words is to communicate, or more correctly the intention of word usage is to communicate. Do I communicate with you, or do my words communicate with yours. Either way the parasite wins. Communication has been facilitated by it, and it has ensured that verbal communication is impossible without it. Verbal communication is it.
Verbal communication is noise. A person makes many noises, and only some of them can be said to form words. A word that you recognise never stretches beyond noise to someone who doesn't understand the language. Noise itself therefore has no inherent intentionality, though there are many noises that are almost universally understood, like a sigh or a laugh. What, then, defines a word? Words are structured noises. The parasite has imbued them with intentionality and commonality with many other noises that form a language, the language of parasitic exchange and perpetuation.
I crashland with parasitic intent upon the word. I operate as a lone agent and parasitise myself upon fellow hosts of the word symbiote. I listen, and watch as the organism prompts them to aid its communication paths with sophisticated body language. Some of them suck boiled sweets for fear that it may be hindered, familiar with the terrible fury of illness it can call to exercise its wrath for being thwarted. All the time its verbal methods are being aided by use of symbols etched on various media, or displayed on screens: writing.
The purpose of the parasite is to perpetuate itself. This is true of all organisms, but the parasite has very particular ways of doing it. The word parasite began to perpetuate itself through speech, but it can't have been very long before it noticed that its host liked to draw pictures. Its response was swift. Within a short time the pictures developed into writing. The parasite externalised itself. Anybody can see that this would maximise its spread, increase its grip on the hosts and ensure that communication lines stretched across time more effectively. Not only this, but by dominating all avenues of communication, it became more entwined and accepted by the hosts. Symbiotic dependence was increased.
Writing the word
The written word is the parasite externalised. On the written page, its code, methodology and communication paths are laid bare. From the rocks of ancient settlements to the screenal space of cyberspace, the development of the parasite and its intimate relationship with its host can be traced. They are its soft, white underbelly, the entity exposed. Unravel the written word and you get some idea of the complexity of this entity, its intelligence and the ease with which it adapts and mutates.
Looking over the shoulder of my hosts, I notice they often use written words sparingly, within diagrams, often linked by arrows or enclosed within boxes. Communication paths are rarely linear, but are still there. Written words are often used to illustrate verbal communication. We are not so far down the line from pictograms and buffalo on cave walls.
If Marshall McLuhan is to be believed, "The medium is the message" 2. If this were the case, I could forget about the words. I watch as people scribble on paper, and the paper itself would say more than what is scribbled. The words remain extant, form a code by which communication is enabled, and the medium is never strong enough to preclude differentiation of meaning by the receiver from the intentions of the deliverer. Death of the author, as defined by Roland Barthes, is resultant upon more than the means of delivery. However, the medium cannot be discarded. The interfaces used to write itself require the parasite to adopt new strategies, to mutate and survive beyond the host body. I intend to isolate the externalised word parasite, unravel its properties and unpick some of its communication paths. Like Derrida, I wish to step outside of the system in order to differentiate it, but I am writing this now and you are reading it (now? See how these words are continuous across time). Thus far I am writing a linear narrative, which requires little wrestling with the parasite, but there are ways to play with it that I shall speak of later.
Linearity, Permutations, Cut-ups (interface & systems)
Written interfaces are many, but for now print these words onto paper and feel an old, familiar interface (or witness on screen and imagine). Paper is the interface I witness in use by other groups. In this singular example, the words sit in lines, and are formed into paragraphs, titles, superscripts and more. The groups I watch use words and diagrams, but all will rationalise their words into this form. This is the accepted form. The written parasite communicates most effectively in these conditions.
Though structured, linear narrative is the middle of the written road, systems fan out to either side. These include permutations and the cut-up and fold-in methods of William Burroughs and Brion Gysin.
Linear narrative has become the most obvious contender for communicative purpose. Linear narrative does not infer time-based linearity, but linearity of word usage. The process is that of the familiar usage of a language in established and well recognised ways utilising known linguistic parameters. One of the aims of such methodology is clarity. So the word parasite pins us down to linear narrative as often as possible, don't want host minds wandering off in all directions and playing around too much. They might begin to think they own the words, and while that remains a condition of keeping the symbiotic game quiet, the hosts must be kept from exercising too much free will with their pens. Linear narrative is the Orwellian Newspeak of writing, keeping thought attenuated along pre-existent lines and most of the professional and academic world is quite happy to play along.
Permutations, which can be traced back to Dadaism, are transformed iterations of the same phrase, such that meaning can become utterly changed. Here is a permutation by Gertrude Stein:
Money is what words are.One of the purposes of permutations is to play. Permutations tend towards nonsense, as becomes apparent through work with longer variations. Whilst communication is also apparent, it exists here within a closed loop whose length is dependant on the number of words. The tendency towards nonsense leads to little usage of permutations. The parasite saw this avenue coming and set up road blocks a fair while ago.
Cut-ups and fold-ins also tend towards nonsense. However, unlike permutations they do not limit themselves to closed loops. Word material is infinite. The nature of their creative process - cutting apart and reassembling books, folding pages over each other and reading across - intentionally rubbishes the dominant ideology of written text as representative of the spoken form. The word parasite stands aghast. These techniques don't play fair. When William Burroughs published "The Naked Lunch" in 1959 it endured months in court fighting off obscenity charges. Cut-up narrative allows words in their written context to speak of themselves, as the nature of the process creates new communicative forms that take visual collage as a reference point, rather than spoken language. No place for a bodysnatching parasite here… or is there? Reactions have been twofold. Cut-up narrative remains difficult to understand, so while it is an accepted experimental form, it remains little explored and languishes in literary backwaters. At the same time, David Bowie, Iggy Pop and others have used the technique to write lyrics, thereby popularising it and giving the parasite an inroad and an angle. Cut-up style is pop writing for hipsters, not serious like recognised forms, but understandable in context.
Without speech: what is a written word? (properties)
So written words carry with them the baggage of speech. In order to look at them through the interface of paper, they must be wrestled free, considered in isolation. Only through isolation can they be devolved to individual meaning. I take a metaphorical leap over the shoulders of a group, into the piece of paper with its scribbles, word lists and sentences. Attempting to become one with its form, I shut myself off from the spoken word. In this flatland, crossed with lines, the written word is a different entity. It can be spoken, but this is not necessary for it to function. Therefore, unlike the spoken word, the written word is not merely noise given structure, and when considered in isolation is not an alternative method of expression of that noise. It is shape, and sequences of shapes, with the intentionality of communication. But how? What it is about the written word that imbues it with this function? I step into a word. This individual entity communicates with those around it, which in turn communicate with those around them and so on. I pull a word apart.
A written word is a series of letters. This is obvious, but is probably the simplest way of indicating how it communicates. Write the word 'love'. Now spell it 'lurv': it has a subtly different meaning. The ability to infer meaning is at the heart of its communicative ability. Of course, the guardians of 'proper English' would shiver at seeing the latter, and what better illustration of its success.
The latter is to all intents and purposes a different word, which symbolises something different. Thus, the written word is also a symbol. Whilst this is not immediately apparent from this alphabet, hieroglyphics and pictogrammatic alphabets illustrate the point better. The modern alphabet used by English is merely a highly sophisticated and abstract mode of symbolic representation.
Written words occupy space on a page. Thus, they can be said to have a physical presence. Cut-up technique is based on this property. Words can be touched, handled and moved, a factor made explicit with the invention of the first printing presses. Physicality is important. Consider the word 'is' in the Gertrude Stein permutation. Take two instances of the word, on the first and third lines. It occupies a different space within each line, in relation to the other words, and it can be seen to behave differently on each occasion. Here is line 1:
Money is what words are.'Is' here describes a definite article. It appears to be stating a fact. Here is line 3:
Is money what words are.The meaning is different. Here 'is' aids the asking of a question, in fact sets up the situation whereby a question is being asked.
Written words have 'meaning'. That meaning is mutable and inferential. Inferential in so far as a given word does not change its meaning without changing the meaning of the words around it.
||| [part 1] ||| [part 2] |||
1. The Rev. Gristle Heavy Analog, Church of the SubGenius online pamphlet
2. Marshall McLuhan, 'The Medium is the Message'
3. Gertrude Stein, 'The Geographical History of America'