A visual-discursive project under construction
The central idea of the project is taken from the well known child toy that in my personal memory comes associated with Easter, and nonetheless is know across the Indo-European cultural area, if not worldwide. Its particular geometry resumes the idea of a whirling movement, celebrating circulation around a centre. The project consists in rendering the transcultural experience by the simile of pinwheels that are re-centred in such a way that they form a common axis. Those superposed pinwheels establish a celebrative unity in which an infinity of cultural codes turn around a common axis, multiplying a common pattern issued from very deep zones of symbolic existence of man, beyond any particular cultural formulation.
The first Pinwheel, an experimental text concerning litholatry, the human instinct of ritual circumambulation of stones, appeared in 2012. Since then, a slow maturation of this idea and the search for its utmost form of visual-discursive expression is in course.
Proliferating geometries of the textual space
Paper presented during the conference "Deleuze + Art", Trinity College Dublin, April 10th, 2016.
The aim of this paper is to reflect upon something we usually take for granted: the book as a topological unit. The form of what is technically called a codex (a book constructed of a number of sheets of paper, vellum, papyrus, etc.), as opposed to other forms of textual topologies such as a scroll, is nonetheless one of the most important premises of what we may call the civilization. As one can hardly indicate any alternative to the textual topology of the codex, we hardly notice how far we are influenced by the consequences of such a textual organization, that presupposes a unique, unidirectional flux of narration. There are some cases as well as some experiments of dividing and multiplying this flux, f.ex. when the book contains a text and its translation put side to side, or when you use footnotes, or again when the parallelism of two independent texts is used as a way of conveying intersectional meaning, as you can see in the text under the title “Tympan” included in the Margins of Philosophy by Jacques Derrida1. We might add to this the typographic experiments of modernist poetry, the caligrammes by Guillaume Apollinaire, etc. Nonetheless, none of these experiments obliterated the “default” order of linear textuality.
In Deleuzian terms included in A Thousand Plateaus, the textual space, organized in subsequent verses could be considered as an example of the striated or metric space, a space that “is counted in order to be occupied”. Even the empty space prepared for writing is covered with visible or invisible lines pre-existing its occupation by the text. This notebook prepared for writing is already the contrary of what Deleuze calls “a smooth (vectorial, projective or topological) space”, a space that might be “occupied without being counted”.
It is the difference between a smooth (vectorial, projective or topological) space and a striated (metric) space: in the first case “space is occupied without being counted” and in the second case “space is counted in order to be occupied”.2
A Thousand Plateaus is also essentially a traditional book, a text occupying the metric space of numbered pages. Yet implicitly, the concept of multiplicity is referred, among other aspects, to the textual space, as the book itself is a tentative of constructing a “smooth space” enabling nomadic exploration. In my opinion, the invitation to read this book in any order, included in the initial Author's note, breaks not only with the habits of linear reading, proper to the western tradition, but also with a determined topology of the textual space based upon such presuppositions as the unidirectional flux of the text, divided into rectangular, movable pages as basic visual and topological units, and the subsequent segmentation of this flux into chapters, that tend to coincide with those basic topological units – new chapter opens up a new page, etc. The introduction of sketches is a significant step towards the un-striating of the textual space. Drawing as a way of opening the metric space of writing, returning to the primary topology of a blank page before it is numbered and included in a book, with a presupposition of sequential reading, has been explored by several artists, such as Marc Ngui who created a series of illustrations for A Thousand Plateaus or Nikolaus Gansterer who organized the collective project “Drawing a Hypothesis”, which is an advanced exploration of the possibilities of thinking unrestrained by the striation of the textual space3. Also the aim of my reflection is similar. I want to go on with the Deleuzean reflection concerning the nomadization of the textual space, proposed in A Thousand Plateaus.
But why do I need the textual vortices rather than the striated space of a traditional page? Why striated space is not enough?
The starting point of this reflection is given by the emergence of a new level of complexity. Emergence and complexity are key-words here. I mean by this a radical change, such as, in biology, the radical change when we pass from the unicellular to multicellular organism. Just to quote a standard definition from Wikipedia: “emergence is a process whereby larger entities, patterns, and regularities arise through interactions among smaller or simpler entities that themselves do not exhibit such properties”. In other words, this is a process by which multiplication is beyond a simple quantitative increase, it leads to a new quality. We don't have the repetition of the same, but we have a constitutive difference.
What I'm concerned with is the emergence of a radically new, transcultural state of the symbolic space. In the contemporary, globalized conditions, symbols are no longer stabilized inside cultures, that might be heretofore defined as relatively stable constellations of meaningful elements. Now the cultural orders form multiple, changing and unpredictable patterns of interference; symbols are no longer read inside their relatively stable, crystallized cultural contexts, but inside the ever-changing patterns of interference. This proliferation of symbolic configurations leads to the emergence of a new level of complexity and creates a new dimension of the symbolic space, situated beyond any locatable culture. This is what Michail Epstein called “transculture”. This new state of affairs makes me think about the absolute necessity of finding a multiplied textual space. My reflection on the topology of the textual space should lead to the proposal of a new modality of theory-building, enabling me to grasp this emergent complexity, to cope with it.
Let's come back to the concept of clinamen as a way of breaking through the textual linearity:
The clinamen, as the minimum angle, has meaning only between a straight line and a curve, the curve and its tangent, and constitutes the original curvature of the movement of the atom. […].
3. One no longer goes from the straight line to its parallels, in a lamellar or laminal flow, but from a curvilinear declination to the formation of spirals or vortices on an inclined plane: the greatest slope for the smallest angle. From turba to turbo; in other words, from bands or packs of atoms to the great vortical organizations. [...]4
I would like to call your attention to the way how A Thousand Plateaus is built up upon thinking about the origins, about very remote stages of culture. It is not by chance that this chapter starts with a return to Georges Dumézil and his binary system of Indo-European mythology. There is no time here to explain why in fact this return to the primordial classifications is so important. Once again, lets bring back a kind of primordial topological model that is still present in our contemporary experience as a pin-wheel. Probably most of you are not conscious of the ancient symbolism of this toy. As far as I remember from my childhood in Poland, this is an element associated with Easter celebration. It is in fact a primordial symbol of creation and rebirth, graphically represented by the swastika and its derivatives. As you know, swastika hadn't been created by the Nazis; it is a much older and much more universal symbol that we find in archaeological findings and ancient art. It is also abundantly attested in ethnography, including the eggs richly decorated for Easter as a symbol of rebirth. At the same time, the wheel turning in the opposite direction is a symbol of destruction. While the basic pattern is derived from square, the pin-wheel may be multiplied and become such form as this Armenian symbol of eternity and eternal rebirth.
What this pin-wheel utterly represents is the interference of a square and a wheel, stability and dynamism, sedentarism and nomadism. It illustrates the clinamen in action, the emergence of the vortex.
What is curious and what is the clue of my presentation today is an example of non-linear text-making that I would like to bring about. As I said, the tradition of text-making in the striated space is dominant and nearly universal. In order to find a significant alternative to it we need to search the peripheries. This is why I would like to bring about a very minor tradition of Malay manuscripts. This type of writing is minor even in Malaysia, where the predominant way of producing books doesn't differ from the organization of the textual space that we know. Yet what calls my attention is the presence of the pin-wheel pattern and the emergence of the textual vortex. The writer breaks through the linearity of the text turning the book around, creating a clinamen, a slope, a minimal angle that divides up and multiplies the textual space. At the same time, the space becomes vectorial and topological, non-striated. I don't pretend to delve into the content of those manuscripts; they might also be quite uninteresting for our conference. Those books have mostly basic religious contents, such as muqaddam, a kind of Islamic catechism, or an Arabic grammar useful for a non-Arabic speaking Malay people. I'm interested in those artefacts merely for the sake of their peculiar textual organization. A single key-concept, written in the middle of the page, is surrounded by multiplied zones of writing, glossing simultaneously on various aspects of this central concept. Impossibility of a linear reading is implied in the very distribution of this text in the visual space of the page. At the same time, the book, in order to be read, has to be constantly moved around. Such a simple gesture, as I believe, may symbolize a constant changing of perspective on the key-concept.
Confronting the Deleuzoguattarian notions of multiplicity and “smooth”, open-ended nomad space with the inspiration given by this Malay manuscript, I would like to present the idea of a plural “pin-wheel” text, growing from a given centre as a proliferation of argumentative lines and implying the potentiality of a whirling movement as its creative opening. This new pattern of textual organization is a visual and a conceptual experiment at the same time. New, complex topologies of the textual space – exemplified here in the model of the pin-wheel – may bring about new configurations of thought, processed simultaneously in parallel lines of reflection, corresponding roughly to the plurality of displaced cultural standpoints. Engaged into the transcultural “whirlpool”, those parallel lines of reflection are supposed to form a “smooth space” of Deleuzean nomadic reading. The utmost purpose of all this is to create a new type of artefact, a kind of “post-book” in which the topology of the blank space prepared for writing (actual pin-wheel shape of the sheets of paper) would be adequate to the kaleidoscopic character of the transcultural phenomena. The challenge presented by the emergent patterns of cultural interference requires the final deconstruction of the linearity of the text as a primary medium of the theoretical discourse in the humanities. The final result, as I believe, would be situated somewhere between cultural criticism and an art-work, “generating”, according to the statement included in the call for paper, “a new world”, i.e. preparing a new configuration of space for transcultural texts that are yet-to-come.
1Jacques Derrida, Margins of Philosophy, trans. Alan Bass, Brighton, The Harvester Press, 1982, p. ix – xxix.
2Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, trans. Brian Massumi, Bloomsbury, 2004, p. 421.
3Nikolaus Gansterer et al., Drawing a Hypothesis. Figures of the Thought, Springer, 2011.
4Deleuze, Guattari, op. cit., p. 421.