“A painting can display and juxtapose its elements at the same time, but verbal utterance lacks that kind of simultaneity and is forced to deliver its elements in a certain order of sequence…”(Hawkes 25)
A strongly worded assertion about language like the one above may seem to burden the whole concept of language with a negative light, implying that the lexical framework we use to communicate obeys a deliberately created, confining structure, and does not allow linguistic expression to arise freely. One example of language arising freely would be an individual expressing something with words is not thetic, something that not build toward a thesis. However, language is used as a tool in the most literal sense of the word, which leaves little room for experimentation, when both the addresser and the addressee try to cipher a satisfactory meaning into an unsatisfactory code. This concept of an unsatisfactory code, however, is not reason for despair, but rather the aperture for capturing a way to keep words from becoming a mere currency of meaning.
The closed structure of language is made even more problematic by the popular method of transcribing words onto a page. One problem is the fact that we rarely stop to think about the sound of sounds, the shape of sounds, or the shapes that form the shape we call a word, which we eventually turn into a sound. Another is the ephemerality of words on a page, the concept that as you continue reading this paper you throw away each word the split second before you read the next; once you harvest the signified, you throw away the husk of the signifier, leaving it lonely and forgotten on the page. The Tralfamadorians, a species of aliens in Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5, are able to access any point in time. To me, this concept is achieved by a Tralfamadorian trapping the moment while they are simultaneously aware of the fact that time continues moving in any and all directions, even while they have their moment. How might I use a 3d printer to resist the tendency of the reader to either be flurrying through text without thinking of the words, or fixated on one word for an extended period of time? How may I use it to make an expression such that “there isn’t any particular relationship between the messages,” and “it is seen all at once?”(Vonnegut 112)
The space that language takes up is taken for granted, as it is usually transcribed onto a screen lacking 3d space, or onto a page which is essentially 2d. Language was originally carved onto tablets, where it remained imprinted for the hand’s touch and the mind’s eye to feel. Not only does 2d inscription cause shortcoming because of its ephemeral nature, the physical aspects pose significant constraints as well. Pretend you are in charge of a postmodern childrens’ museum exhibit: how do you familiarize a young child with the notion of the poetic function? How do you reconnect them with Julia Kristeva’s idea of the semiotic, which evokes “the sound produced by the rhythmic babbling of small children who cannot yet speak”?(Belsey 16) One strategy would be to expose them to material forms of words, cementing the immense role language has in shaping both life and mind. The physical constraints of the page are irrelevant when one ventures to 3d print words, and any number of configurations could be utilized to create a 3d printed poem/sculpture/puzzle.
An interlocking series of words printed in all different shapes and sizes, configurable in an infinite series of “choose your own semiotic adventure.” It could simultaneously be thought of as interactive book art, or a poetry machine.
I once found an old chapbook at an estate sale I was working at, and inside were some very curious pages and signatures. Before my boss took it away to get it appraised, he let me skim through it to see what I could find out about it. Apart from accounting and some calligraphy practice, the only thing interesting in the notebook was one poem, the corners seeped with ink and obscuring the title. I wrote it down, as it captured perfectly for me he type of linguistic expression I am thriving for. I hope to create something of the same caliber, with maybe less words, and more possibilities for combination.
The “O” in his/her middle name was obscured by ink, never giving me a certain name, and making it unable to google or find more poetry of theirs. This absence of an author is also exciting to me, because i am focused wholly on the quality of the work and not on who did it. This poem has no pragmatic function, it could not be used to help someone answer a question or to help some complete a task, but it does a great job at showing us an example of the non-function of poetry, especially the type of Semiotic-invoking poetry I am striving to create.
Hawkes, Terence. Structuralism & Semiotics. London: Methuen, 1977. 25. Print.
Vonnegut, Kurt. Slaughterhouse 5. Vintage: n.p., 1993. 112. Print.
Kristeva, Julia. Post-structuralism: A Very Short Introduction. By Catherine Belsey. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2002. 16. Print.