Coda to Bringing The Text Back Home
by Karl Young

Variations, Alternates, and Diagram — Sketch of Related Works


About "Big Arc" Projects and Completion

This is one of a large group of works which I call "big arc" projects. They take more than a decade to produce, cover a number of fields of study and practice, often enough interlock with other endeavors, and at times give fate opportunities to play tricks on me. The worst of the tricks seems to be those which circumstances prevent me from continuing or completing.

At times, I don't expect these projects to be as extensive as they turn out to be, and they change courses and as I work on them. This may lead to uncertainty as to when such projects are complete. "Bringing the Text Back Home" is an example of an important division in degrees of completion. The basic work is now almost uncertainly concluded in its basic elements. One of the reasons I left it on-line for over half a year before announcing its completion was to come as close as possible to making sure its essential elements were complete. There may still be a few elements that need some tinkering: there are certainly some typos to correct, and some formats to change on the table of contents. But the books of fragments at the essential points of origin of alphabets and culture are completed, and the "translations," which go beyond the usual purpose of translation, and become integral parts of the work are done. The conjunction of my birthday and Yom Kippur in 2011 give me a good point to formally declare the basic work done.

What remains or may remain include the following: A number of people created independent works using the two fragment books as points of departure. I will put some or all of these on-line when and if I can make full arrangements to do so. There may be further interlocking essays which I could include or to which I can create links. I have not decided whether or not to add comments by other people. There may be additional, secondary possibilities which have not yet presented themselves.



Interlocking Works

Most of the literary and artistic work I engage in, from editing to setting up arts centers to writing poems interlock in important ways. During recent years, I have had limited resources and multiple distractions. These have been thrown back on autobiography more than I would like. In some instances, such as Some Volumes of Poetry, of which "Bringing the Text back Home" may be considered, give me a chance to experiment with my limitations and perhaps will lead to something more than an autobiography acting as a thin spine for reflections on art and literature.

Most projects based in historical sources generate essays. One of the books of criticism I am working on, as part of a Big Arc project begun in 1992, and would like to think I can complete in the next two years, includes some of the commentary in "Bringing the Text back Home." The comments and interpretations of Codices Vindobonensis and Boturini, and the essay on their Central Mexican ecosystem interlock with the big arc project, Middle American Dialogues — an unfinishable project which nonetheless produced a number of books of poetry. Here is an outline of the first of the books of criticism, with links to drafts of passages available on-line. "We Have Always Been Here" could be a book of its own, but I plan to interlace its chapters with the multi-volume critical work.

Of Making Many Books There Is No End


Notation and the Art of Reading

An Approach to Codex Vindobonensis
The Last Pages of Codex Boturini
Stages in the Aztec Continuum of Life

Anglo-Saxon Book Riddles
A Dream of The Cross

The Manufactured and Organic Machineries of Speed and the
    Silent Word
The Poetry Reading: from Stimulus to Sacrament

Digital Visions
Disturbing History: The World Wide Web in Context
Light and Dust: Another Attempt at an Ideal Anthology
Some Functions of Translation in "The Ideal Anthology"

Celebrating the Tower of Babel: Virtues of Translation, Old and New

We Have Always Been Here, Part 1
    Marks and Noises: Suggestions of Potential Pre- or Early-
        Human Origins of Poetry and Writing
    From Divine Creator to "Problem Solver": The Sense of
        Origins in Joy and in Art
    Varieties of the Need to Share — and The Consequences of
        Ignoring or Falsifying It
    Formal Training and/or Self Discipline
    Hunger for "The News That Stays News" and The Need to
        "Make It New"
    Problems With the Speed of Change
    Of Being Numerous
    Ugliness: A-History and Anti-Intellectualism; Trendiness,
        Police States, and Stasis
    Without Invention, Meaning Disappears

Introduction to Bringing the Text Back Home

Graffiti International
Books Produced by Walter Tisdale: Traditional Discipline and
    "Book Art"
Acoustic Books at the Beginning and End of the World.

I think of books as whole, integrated entities, and don't like to put together odds and ends, or whatever I happen to have been working on since the last book. Although interlocking works, including interlocking genres, are important to me, and often manifest themselves as books, books can keep their integrity without being carefully planned big arc projects. I am at present editing several books of poetry that include smaller books and even parts of big arc projects that won't be completed or that make sense in other configurations, or that simply make sense using parts of another effort. The following tentative table of contents, again with licks to work on the web, has a logic of its own, and makes use of parts of other sequences.

Renewable Resources
To Dream Kalapuya

A book of Fractals
    The Barber of Seville
    The Flies. The Game Is Up
    Three, Hiroshima

Cried and Measured

Echoes of the Wine Dark Sea and the Middle Kingdom

A Book of Questions and Goddesses
    fromMiddle American Dialogues

A Book of Hymns

This is a book with texts based on source-texts in languages other than English. Several of them include working from classics. In the instance of A Book of Fractals the classics are all French. Unlike the sources for the two English books in "Bringing the Text back Home," they are not fragmentary; instead, I extracted individual words from esteemed works, translated them into English, and arranged them in a new order, without adding any new words. In some respects, this is an inverse procedure from the books based in fragments. Renewable Resources has its own kind of unity seeking balance with its diversities.

Although this collection has its rhythms and its logic, it is not a big arc project. It was not conceived at any point in the composition process as a unified work. You could call it a collage, perhaps — it has its unity, and its deliberation of purpose. But these came after composition and were not part of anything but assembly after the individual components were complete.

Bringing the Text Back Home may be a book that makes sense in cyberspace rather than on paper. I don't think too many publisher would want to print a book of over 280 pages in three languages. Particularly since there are probably extremely few people who read all three and are interested in experimental poetry. I wouldn't mind seeing it done in multiple volumes, but the presentation in cyberspace seems to make more sense. And leaves the two books free to join with others in print for purposes I haven't yet conceived.


A Note on the Spectrum of Writing Systems
in Relation to this Project

In the range of visual poetry, the work presented here pushes the extreme of lexical characteristics. The sub-genres and cognates of Visual Poetry can extend so far away from text as to appear without any text at all. This range of wordless visual poetry comes from what we can consider the etimological strain in visual poetry. One of the essential changes in literature that makes visual poetry at the present time is the loss of the need for meter in poetry generally. Until the late 19th Century, meter, not language, was the essential element of poetry. Meaningless sounds, essentially forms of scatting, have been around for millenia, perhaps first being written down in the choruses of plays by Aristophanes. In the etimological line of visual poetry, the thing that makes visual poetry qualify as poetry is its heritage in literary sources, and/or its use of syntax and other linguistic properties. If you don't agree with this, please bear in mind for the moment that I see it as legitimate, and am only presenting non-linguistic examples in my own work, for this project, to accentuate the insistance and close concentration on alphabets and language in the "Bringing the Text Back Home" opus.

The following links lead to works done in collaboration with Reid Wood over a period of 18 years. Most contain no words whatsoever, and the majority don't even feature such characteristics of other forms of poetry as the use of structures based on linguistic patterns of syntax or grammar. Reid doesn't consider them poetry at all. While working on them, I don't not think about whether they should be considered poetry or visual art. What is important to me, and to this specific set of notes, is they suggest how far away from language the continuum I work in can go.

Click here to go to a dense and paired collection of collaborations done in 2009.

Click here to go to samples of the collaboration from several years of the work.

In studying poetry, art, and language, an important area of concentration and study for me has been the iconographic writing system used in Central Mexico before the Spanish Conquest, and continued with ever-increasing additions of words after 1521. This is a system of writing not based in phonetics (though it contains rebuses and some forms of phonetic and verbal notation). It was based on icons rather than speech. Commentators for centuries have considered it a crude form of picture writing. However, as studies of Mexican culture and changes in our abilities to see beyond our prejudices move on, it seems possible that iconic writing made a great deal of sense in a geographical area where people spoke not only many languages, but languages within different families. In this bottle-neck of the Americas, it may have made more sense for densely packed speakers of mutually incomprehensible languages to employ a writing system that does not depend on spoken language. You're now reading this on a computer screen, in part of an ecosystem where icons serve useful purposes not imagined a few decades ago. In an environment of rapid change, for instance, icons aid in the process of nearly constant retraining that changing electronic methods demand. Even though English is becoming a world language, we are living in a world held together by electronic media where the majority of people do not speak English as their native language. Perhaps we are entering a phase where we can beter understand the sophistication of the pre-Columbian central Mexican writing system — and where we can better understand its real weaknesses instead of those we project onto it.

On-line you can find my notes and "translation" of Codex Boturini by clicking on the title.

The essay Animal and Human Stages in the Aztec Continuum of Life concludes with brief readings from Codex Borbonicus.

My most important essay and interpretation of this writing system may be found in my essay on the opening pages of Codex Vindobonensis in vol. 11 of New Wilderness Letter edited by Jerome Rothenberg and David Guss, 1982, under the title "Notes on Codex Vienna." The magazine was reprinted in 1996 by Granary Books under the title The Book, Spiritual Instrument.

Writing need not be seen simplistically as either phonetic/alphabetic or iconographic. Even the systems called "ideograms," from those of Egypt to the mayan regions of Meso-America to China show a great deal of variety, as do options for creating poetry at the beginning of the twenty first century. Written Chinese has at times been mistaken for picture writing. Its nature may best be described, as it was by Arthur Cooper, as "etymological." Although based largely on spoken language, and largely phonetic in nature, it does contain some picture writing and some icons. Most interestingly, it depends largely on internalizing the gestures of writing as part of its inherent nature, from the process of learning to the processes of writing and reading. Still, it can only be understood, like post-metric poetry, by its evolution, not a single set of consistent principles. I made some use of characteristics of Chinese writing, and of Chinese poems in Clouds Over Fortjade, parts of which can be accessed by clicking the title. A few pages of the next work of this type, Stellar Dreams Above the Middle Kingdom can be found in Sugar Mule on-line magazine. The poems presented here work very well on-screen. I am trying to work out ways to present some of the others electronically.

In Notation and the Art of Reading, I try to relate several different writing systems to contemporary literary and artistic methods. In addition to the on-line version linked above, this may be found in a number of printed sources: the most widely distributed being A Book of the Book edited by Jerome Rothenberg and Steven Clay and published by Granary Books, 2000.


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