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.
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
The Poetry Reading: from Stimulus to Sacrament
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
Books Produced by Walter Tisdale: Traditional Discipline and
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.
To Dream Kalapuya
A book of Fractals
The Barber of Seville
The Flies. The Game Is Up
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
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.
Click here to return to directory page of Bringing the Text Back Home