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Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Writing and reflexivity 



I've just finished Ralf Cintron's wonderfully written book 'Angel's Town' which was recommended to me by Damiana Gibbons. It's one of the most reflexive ethnographies I know, and it is particuarly successful in analysing the act of writing. Cintron talks about the 'special relationship between the space that contains the writing and the writing that inhabits that space' arguing that the two form 'a powerful dialectic, Stated simply,the dialectic consists of writing (the making of socially meaningful marks usually realting to oral language) and a blank surface (paper, clay tablets, computer screen, walls, and so on). Writing is the making of an order and the blank surface is that space or servant that holds the order. Typically, writing catches the eye, but the surface that recieves the writing does not. In this sense, the writing contains the stronger presence, and the surface that receives the writing is defined by that presence. The surface, then, is an ordered, limited space cleared of obstacles and ready to be acted upon by an ordering agent weilding a highly routininized tool.....the goal of literacy training...is to produce individuals [ordering agents] who can create viable minature worlds in both their writing and reading....Writing attempts to interrupt or shape an amorphousness that might otherwise melt us into everything else, and we call those interruptions or shapings acts of consciousness or self-consciousness.' Say no more!

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Comments:
Hey Guy~ I'm so glad that you enjoyed Cintron's book. I know that it has really resonated with me in my work. But, I'm struck here with this: 'Writing is the making of an order and the blank surface is that space or servant that holds the order." Wow, that's a powerful statement. But are all spaces blank surfaces? I mean, how blank can a surface really get? Each surface has a context semiotically that is assigning it meaning. Even this comment box, though blank when I began writing, had a particular way of ordering in-and-of itself just from its context.

But perhaps even more importantly in what I'm seeing with the youth video work is that no matter how blank a surface is, that blankness is so fleeting. They fill the surface, in some ways, long before they actually do anything with that space; they fill it with the images in the minds, with discourse about their films, with images and content the organizations want them to use, etc. I'm worried about how much that space is already ordered, in terms of the youth being marginalized, too.

Anyway, I'm rambling, but thanks so much for your post. It really gave me something to think about. Thanks.
 
Hey again. So I was thinking about all this today and happened to watch an episode of PBS's Art:21 that is a perfect example of what you are talking about. It's an interview with an artist named Laylah Ali, and in it she discusses how her painting is just like reading and writing to her. It's very interesting.

'm attaching the link here (hopefully, it plays in the UK. If not, here is her URL for the series itself: http://www.pbs.org/art21/artists/ali/index.html).

http://www.pbs.org/cgi-registry/mediaplayer/videoplayer.cgi?playertype=quicktime&speed=hi&;playeraddress=videoplayer.cgi;media=/art21/3_LA2_video_lo.rm,/art21/3_LA2_video_hi.rm,/art21/3_LA2_video_lo.mov,/art21/3_LA2_video_hi.mov,/art21/3_LA2_video_lo.wmv,/art21/3_LA2_video_hi.wmv;title=Laylah%20Ali%20discusses%20reading,%20writing%20%26%20drawing%20in%20her%20work;widescreen=true;playertemplate=/art21/Templates/art21_mp.html
 
Hi Damiana - thanks for the comments and the link that works just fine. I love her drawings and paintings and the nuanced commentary. Yes, interesting how she uses print literacy as a sort of touchstone, annotates her sketches, writes on swatches and even labels brushes. I think I caught the quote 'the way I work is very like reading'. She also alludes to filing cuttings as a 'kind of underlining'. Great stuff - probably better as painting than as dance.

But 'how blank is blank' - that's a big question. I suppose most surfaces offer us a range of possibilities, affordances (?) or maybe identity positions. On my blog, you are positioned as someone who comments or refuses to comment. What you say has to bear some sort of relationship to what I've already said (unless its a spam comment). But then I can only make meaning in relation to something else - in a Bakhtinian sort of way. So that's what Laylah's doing with her clippings too I suppose...but the bounded space of her surface still'holds the order'.

What you say about your video projects is in some ways the same - the young people who do the work already have their mental 'clippings' - the raw material - but the medium of the video is the servant to this. I think....
 
Agreed. I found her very interesting in that she started out talking about how her work was like reading then she almost talked herself into how it was writing and reading, and all this while creating visuals. Though, I'm with you on the dancing part-keeping to the original medium might be best there. ;)

I really like, too, the idea that you are working toward, it seems, about a kind of "bounded space" that still has affordances for identities, etc. And, the idea of Bakhtin with this, with the making meaning in relation to other things, deserves serious thought. That is really interesting.

The medium of the video being in service to the mental clippings--fascinating. I really have to think that one through. But, I'm wondering if the mental clippings are not already in service to something as well.... That's the tricky bit.

But, thanks for your wonderful insights. They are very helpful, especially as I'm working through these ideas. I'll let you know when I get it a bit more sorted. Thanks again.
 
Hey thanks! I look forward to reading more about your work.
 
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