experiments in more-than-human design ethnography

More thoughts on writing and making

In the comments to my last post on writing as making, Peter Richardson wrote something that’s sticking with me:

“I suspect makers (and coders in particular, myself included) tend to view non-code text as an unstable, somewhat shifty medium.”

And Matt Jones later gave a similar reply to my original question about why writing isn’t Making:

"the fleshy machines you run your code on are notoriously unreliable"

Unstable. Shifty. Unreliable.

Yes please!

I love that people and our words are all those things. As I replied to Peter, and would say to Matt, I prefer the sense of potential that comes from this kind of material and making.

It’s less prescriptive. Less efficient. Less technological. Less machinic.

More space to become something, someone else.

***

“Here all is in life and motion; here we behold the true Poet or Maker.”

– J. Warton, Essays on Pope (1782)

Starting in the 1400s, and for four hundred-odd years, the title of “maker” (and especially the Scottish “makar”) was given to those we later called “poet.” This sense of making comes from “poiesis” or “poesis” (from the ancient Greek ποίησις creation, production, poetry, a poem; ποιεῖν to make, create, produce). We still use this sense of poetics whenever we speak of people who imaginatively synthesise existing things in order to create other, new things. Behold the Poet Hacker!

Along these lines, my friend Virginia pointed me to Robert Creeley’s essay, “From the Language Poets,” which begins:

“Whatever poetry may prove to be at last, the very word (from the Greek poiein , ‘to make’) determines a made thing, a construct, a literal system of words. We are, of course, far more likely to think of a poem as a pleasing sentiment, a lyric impulse, an expression of feeling that can engage the reader or listener in some intensive manner. But, whatever our disposition, it is well to remember that there is a diversity of ‘poetries’ in our world.”

And my friend Courtney currently has me reading Patrick Ness’ very good YA novel, The Knife of Never Letting Go, which has this lovely passage:

“Cuz all I know about Viola is what she says. The only truth I got is what comes outta her mouth and so for a second back there, when she said she was Hildy and I was Ben and we were from Farbranch and she spoke just like Wilf (even tho he ain’t from Farbranch) it was like all those things became true, just for an instant the world changed, just for a second it became made of Viola’s voice and it wasn’t describing a thing, it was making a thing, it was making us different just by saying it.” (emphasis in original)

Language doesn’t just make things–it assembles, cobbles together, entire worlds and all the relations within.

***

I don’t mean to romanticise words and writing. And I don’t mean to suggest they are divorced from technology or machines or even code.

By identifying what is included in our definitions of making or Making–and asking what is excluded–we might, as Ben Highmore writes in the introduction to The Everyday Life Reader, be able to “find new commonalities and breathe new life into old differences.”

And I’m pretty sure there’s lots more to be thought and said about what gets made, how, when and where it gets made, and by whom it gets made.

Posted: March 1st, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Material & Visual Culture, Science, Technology & Society | No Comments »

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