The disturbing implication of this last page, and of every page of the Codex Seraphinianus, is that the real as we see it cannot contain everything.
Other possibilities are continually generated by the imagination , and generated above all in images. Perhaps it is not as important as we thought to determine whether the images generatedare those of the artist, the dreamer, the fantasist or the hallucinator; for these species belong to one genus.
“Codex Seraphinianus: Hallucinatory Encyclopedia” – Peter Schwenger
The Codex Seraphinianus was written and illustrated by Italian graphic designer and architect, Luigi Serafini during the late 1970’s.
The Codex is a lavishly produced book that purports to be an encyclopedia for an imaginary world in a parallel universe, with copious comments in an incomprehensible language. It is written in a florid script, entirely invented and completely illegible, and illustrated with watercolor paintings. The Codex is divided into a number of sections (each with its own table of contents, the page numbers are in base-21 or base-22!) on subjects such as plants, animals, inhabitants, machines, clothing, architecture, numbers, cards, chemical analyses, labyrinth, Babel, foods… There are panoramic scenes of incomprehensible festivals, and diagrams of plumbing.
The Codex is to that imaginary world what Diderot’s Encyclopedia is to ours. Obviously, Serafini was not just attempting to create a consistent alternate world. Rather, the Codex is sort of an elaborate parody of the real world.
The invented script of the book imitates the Western-style writing systems (left-to-right writing in rows; an alphabet with uppercase and lowercase; probably a separate set of symbols for writing numerals) but is much more curvilinear reminding some Semitic scripts. The writing seems to have been designed to appear, but not actually be, meaningful, like the Voynich Manuscript.
from E-Books Are Still Waiting for Their Avant-Garde by Tim Carmody
When we’re reading familiar words laid out in familiar sequences within familiar contexts, our brain just mainlines the data; we can read whole chunks at a time without consciously processing their component parts.
When we read something like James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake, on the other hand — long chunks of linguistically playful, conceptually dense, sparsely punctuated text — our brain can’t handle the information the same way. It goes back to the same pathways that we used when we first learned how to read, processing a word, phoneme or even a letter at a time. Our brain snaps upright to attention; as Lehrer says, “[a]ll the extra work – the slight cognitive frisson of having to decipher the words – wakes us up.”
from The Future of Reading by Jonah Lehrer
It’s never been easier to buy books, read books, or read about books you might want to buy. How can that not be good?That said, I do have a nagging problem with the merger of screens and sentences. My problem is that consumer technology moves in a single direction: It’s constantly making it easier for us to perceive the content. This is why your TV is so high-def, and your computer monitor is so bright and clear. For the most part, this technological progress is all to the good. (I still can’t believe that people watched golf before there were HD screens. Was the ball even visible? For me, the pleasure of televised golf is all about the lush clarity of grass.) Nevertheless, I worry that this same impulse – making content easier and easier to see – could actually backfire with books. We will trade away understanding for perception. The words will shimmer on the screen, but the sentences will be quickly forgotten.
Let me explain. Stanislas Dehaene, a neuroscientist at the College de France in Paris, has helped illuminate the neural anatomy of reading. It turns out that the literate brain contains two distinct pathways for making sense of words, which are activated in different contexts. One pathway is known as the ventral route, and it’s direct and efficient, accounting for the vast majority of our reading. The process goes like this: We see a group of letters, convert those letters into a word, and then directly grasp the word’s semantic meaning. According to Dehaene, this ventral pathway is turned on by “routinized, familiar passages” of prose, and relies on a bit of cortex known as visual word form area (VWFA). When you are a reading a straightforward sentence, or a paragraph full of tropes and cliches, you’re almost certainly relying on this ventral neural highway. As a result, the act of reading seems effortless and easy. We don’t have to think about the words on the page.
But the ventral route is not the only way to read. The second reading pathway – it’s known as the dorsal stream – is turned on whenever we’re forced to pay conscious attention to a sentence, perhaps because of an obscure word, or an awkward subclause, or bad handwriting. (In his experiments, Dehaene activates this pathway in a variety of ways, such as rotating the letters or filling the prose with errant punctuation.) Although scientists had previously assumed that the dorsal route ceased to be active once we became literate, Deheane’s research demonstrates that even fluent adults are still forced to occasionally make sense of texts. We’re suddenly conscious of the words on the page; the automatic act has lost its automaticity.
This suggests that the act of reading observes a gradient of awareness. Familiar sentences printed in Helvetica and rendered on lucid e-ink screens are read quickly and effortlessly. Meanwhile, unusual sentences with complex clauses and smudged ink tend to require more conscious effort, which leads to more activation in the dorsal pathway. All the extra work – the slight cognitive frisson of having to decipher the words – wakes us up.
Of course I stole the title from this talk, from George Orwell. One reason I stole it was that I like the sound of the words: Why I Write. There you have three short unambiguous words that share a sound.
I stole the title not only because the words sounded right but because they seemed to sum up, in a no-nonsense way, all I have to tell you. Like many writers I have only this one “subject,” this one “area”: the act of writing. I can bring you no reports from any other front. I may have other interests: I am “interested,” for example, in marine biology, but I don’t flatter myself that you would come out to hear me talk about it. I am not a scholar. I am not in the least an intellectual, which is not to say that when I hear the word “intellectual” I reach for my gun, but only to say that I do not think in abstracts. During the years when I was an undergraduate at Berkeley, I tried, with a kind of hopeless late-adolescent energy, to buy some temporary visa into the world of ideas, to forge for myself a mind that could deal with abstract.In short I tried to think. I failed. My attention veered inexorably back to the specific, to the tangible, to what was generally considered, by everyone I knew then and for that matter have known since, the peripheral. I would try to contemplate the Hegelian dialectic and would find myself concentrating instead on a flowering pear tree outside my window and the particular way the petals fell on my floor. I would try to read linguistic theory and would find myself wondering instead if the lights were on in the bevatron up the hill. When I say that I was wondering if the lights were on in the bevatron you might immediately suspect, if you deal in ideas at all, that I was registering the bevatron as a political symbol, thinking in shorthand about the military-industrial complex and its role in the university community, but you would be wrong. I was only wondering if the lights were on in the bevatron, and how they looked. A physical fact. Excerpt Joan Didion’s Why I Write, originally published in The New York Times Magazine, December 5, 1976.
Vonnegut qualifies the list by adding that Flannery O’Connor broke all these rules except the first, and that great writers tend to do that.
How to Write With Style
1. Find a subject you care aboutFind a subject you care about and which you in your heart feel others should care about. It is this genuine caring, and not your games with language, which will be the most compelling and seductive element in your style. I am not urging you to write a novel, by the way — although I would not be sorry if you wrote one, provided you genuinely cared about something. A petition to the mayor about a pothole in front of your house or a love letter to the girl next door will do. 2. Do not ramble, though I won’t ramble on about that. 3. Keep it simple As for your use of language: Remember that two great masters of language, William Shakespeare and James Joyce, wrote sentences which were almost childlike when their subjects were most profound. “To be or not to be?” asks Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The longest word is three letters long. Joyce, when he was frisky, could put together a sentence as intricate and as glittering as a necklace for Cleopatra, but my favorite sentence in his short story “Eveline” is this one: “She was tired.” At that point in the story, no other words could break the heart of a reader as those three words do. Simplicity of language is not only reputable, but perhaps even sacred. The Bible opens with a sentence well within the writing skills of a lively fourteen-year-old: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” 4. Have guts to cut It may be that you, too, are capable of making necklaces for Cleopatra, so to speak. But your eloquence should be the servant of the ideas in your head. Your rule might be this: If a sentence, no matter how excellent, does not illuminate your subject in some new and useful way, scratch it out. 5. Sound like yourself The writing style which is most natural for you is bound to echo the speech you heard when a child. English was Conrad’s third language, and much that seems piquant in his use of English was no doubt colored by his first language, which was Polish. And lucky indeed is the writer who has grown up in Ireland, for the English spoken there is so amusing and musical. I myself grew up in Indianapolis, where common speech sounds like a band saw cutting galvanized tin, and employs a vocabulary as unornamental as a monkey wrench. In some of the more remote hollows of Appalachia, children still grow up hearing songs and locutions of Elizabethan times. Yes, and many Americans grow up hearing a language other than English, or an English dialect a majority of Americans cannot understand. All these varieties of speech are beautiful, just as the varieties of butterflies are beautiful. No matter what your first language, you should treasure it all your life. If it happens to not be standard English, and if it shows itself when your write standard English, the result is usually delightful, like a very pretty girl with one eye that is green and one that is blue. I myself find that I trust my own writing most, and others seem to trust it most, too, when I sound most like a person from Indianapolis, which is what I am. What alternatives do I have? The one most vehemently recommended by teachers has no doubt been pressed on you, as well: to write like cultivated Englishmen of a century or more ago. 6. Say what you mean I used to be exasperated by such teachers, but am no more. I understand now that all those antique essays and stories with which I was to compare my own work were not magnificent for their datedness or foreignness, but for saying precisely what their authors meant them to say. My teachers wished me to write accurately, always selecting the most effective words, and relating the words to one another unambiguously, rigidly, like parts of a machine. The teachers did not want to turn me into an Englishman after all. They hoped that I would become understandable — and therefore understood. And there went my dream of doing with words what Pablo Picasso did with paint or what any number of jazz idols did with music. If I broke all the rules of punctuation, had words mean whatever I wanted them to mean, and strung them together higgledy-piggledy, I would simply not be understood. So you, too, had better avoid Picasso-style or jazz-style writing, if you have something worth saying and wish to be understood. Readers want our pages to look very much like pages they have seen before. Why? This is because they themselves have a tough job to do, and they need all the help they can get from us. 7. Pity the readers They have to identify thousands of little marks on paper, and make sense of them immediately. They have to read, an art so difficult that most people don’t really master it even after having studied it all through grade school and high school — twelve long years. So this discussion must finally acknowledge that our stylistic options as writers are neither numerous nor glamorous, since our readers are bound to be such imperfect artists. Our audience requires us to be sympathetic and patient readers, ever willing to simplify and clarify — whereas we would rather soar high above the crowd, singing like nightingales. That is the bad news. The good news is that we Americans are governed under a unique Constitution, which allows us to write whatever we please without fear of punishment. So the most meaningful aspect of our styles, which is what we choose to write about, is utterly unlimited. 8. For really detailed advice For a discussion of literary style in a narrower sense, in a more technical sense, I recommend to your attention The Elements of Style, by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White. E.B. White is, of course, one of the most admirable literary stylists this country has so far produced. You should realize, too, that no one would care how well or badly Mr. White expressed himself, if he did not have perfectly enchanting things to say. via San Diego State University
hat tip Kottke
Methods and Black Squares: Trading Time in InterZone by Muli Koppel
The writer comes to Interzone looking for something that will help him create a world for his book, something that can be arranged by the Continuity Man. Interzone is not a normal place, and neither is that something wanted by the writer. Such deals smell Faust.
So what is it that the Continuity Man can offer?
Maybe it is this alien, yellowish parchment of continuous time on top of which the writer can engrave his space-less story?