Making Meaning Matter

The Evergreen State College

Author: balcam29

Final CST

“Calvinball. Right. You were made for this”.(410)

In a past program at Evergreen we would seminar extensively, using the game “calvinball” as a model for our conversations. Calvinball is a game borrowed from Calvin and Hobbes in which the players decide on the rules as they go along. It became more than just a cute way to think about seminar, as it produced some of the best conversations we had in that class. The temptation was to go off on relevant tangents,  creating an environment where any anecdote or query could turn back to one of our texts.

How do we play Calvinball with a 3d printer? It is reaching the end of the quarter, and I am most likely staying in for Winter quarter. What steps can be taken to revitalize ourselves? I know that I have been dragged down creatively after all the times I have tried to print my poetry. Each time I make a model, it “horribly fails,” according to the CAL spreadsheet. I am not trying to sound dismal, by the way…sometimes being honest can sound that way. So, back to Calvinball. What I need to enhance my creative zone is a 3d printing feedback loop. By that, I mean a conversation with the various projects I am entertaining. I am into 3d printing poetry, and 3d printing block prints, both of which are somewhat unconventional things to print… What do I need to create a salient game in which I am constantly bouncing the “Calvinball?”



Cameron Ball

Every verbal utterance put forth has both an addresser and addressee.


Rotation: |

X: 178.79

Y: 128.92

Z: 54.10

Print time: 6 hours

Traditionally, language allows us the opportunity to transmit knowledge(Ex: “Meet me after class at Red Square.”) or perform social tasks(Ex: “Thanks, bus driver!”). In both these instances, the addresser and addressee are meant to comprehend each other.

Com(together)/ Prehendere(to catch hold of)

If we were not able to comprehend each other through language, we would arguably not have developed it as a tool. However, we have readily utilized the power of language and its ability to help transmit meaning. Why then, do I feel the need to use the only system of meaning I know in order to create Zaum, beyond meaning? Why do I want to bewilder myself and my audience rather than make it comprehensive?

The lexical framework we use to communicate obeys a deliberately created, confining structure, and does not allow linguistic expression to arise freely. My desire to go beyond meaning stems from a strange nostalgia of the time before I knew words, mixed with a yearning to finally understand how to use language to represent, rather than misrepresent.

Printing poetry was an intense creative process. I went through countless iterations on paper, trying only to decide how to arrange the words 3 dimensionally, not to mention pages upon pages of rejected words. I had wanted to create a mechanism of language, something that generated combinations of words, with my own freely expressive twist. I envisioned a Rube Goldberg poetry machine with shifting sets of type and gears and complication all just to perform a seemingly banal task.

I just did not know how to use the space. I have enough trouble writing on a 2d surface, that when I added another dimension, I really got afraid of the workplane.I jumped from program to program trying to create fonts, getting stuck when I realized I didn’t have the time and expertise to create a font




I spent hours trying to get this one to work….

The result was that I would start using exclusively Tinkercad, shamelessly using the text tool again and again without bringing much variety of custom text into it. It seemed a little sterile, using the prefabricated fonts, but when I tried sculpting individual letters on Adobe Illustrator or Tinkercad, I was glad to have the option to do prefab fonts. The worry of creating a font and doing something groundbreaking with typography was really getting in the way of my creativity. My main challenge was that my entire project has been focused so broadly and on so many facets of experimentation and exploration of language that it is hard to decide which language game to play.

However, I created something that I think will allow me to keep experimenting with the questions I posed throughout this project. The final result is a sculpture, a poem, a scene. I haven’t seen it as an actual object yet, but it is already reminding me of authors to put it into conversation with.

A technical constraint I felt hindered my creation was that I originally planned to create the poem and structure/3d model, and then tweak the lettering so that it looked more similar to one of my inspirations.



This is “Tango with Cows”, a hundred-year-old experimental text by Vasily Kamensky.

I had originally wanted to combine typographic experimentation of a similar vein to this with the idea of a Rube Goldberg language machine, but I was having a lot of trouble getting right effect with the juxtaposition of fonts. My main problem was that I had too many metaphors for what I was trying to do: hypnogonic hallucinations, Kristeva’s “Semiotic,” Barth’s cosmopsis to a lesser extent, Rube Goldberg Language machine, and “Tango with Cows” will not all fit into one poem.



Surface reading

What does poetry do? How do you “do things with words?” Does poetry truly “make nothing happen?” How does the answer of the last question change when you make poetry into matter? Is making poetry into matter making “meaning” matter?

Any piece of writing bears scars from the many erased words that did not make it. The many words that didn’t even get put onto paper, but were a flash in the writer’s mind for a split second, before the author decides to infringe upon their own freedom. By bringing those words not only into a print, but into existence as an object, an intriguing line of inquiry is produced. These words I have chosen celebrate option over allegiance to dominant discourse, and blur the line between signified and signified, creating a contested ground in the space occupied by the word itself.



Simple iteration of one aspect of the poem. I’ll give a transcription of the text, but it’s important to note that this transcription does not equal the poem itself.

“Sour grapefruits of my L(eftover fuse mounting bracket capacitor bank input filters)abor extruded through a sieve from furnaces clumsily carving”

Hypnogonic hallucination is a common disorder that occurs while the subject is falling asleep. They might hear, see, or feel hallucinations while transitioning into a sleep state. To me, these hypnogonic hallucinations represent a side of language that is outside any pragmatic function. It does not seek to gain or lose anything from its existence, and is not predicated on agreeing to a certain code. Hypnogonic hallucinations can occur without being concerned with being received by the adressee, and in that way, represent what I am trying to do here with this inquiry. How are these rhythmic utterances which are involuntarily and seemingly randomly chosen from our lexicons poetry? How can they in fact be doing something with words while “accomplishing” nothing?”



A second part that will be attached to the first. I would rather not share this one yet.

Another aspect of hypnogonic hallucinations that intrigues me is the fact that if I model my mode of communication after hynogonic hallucinations, which to me, are neither word nor sound, I get complete freedom and freedom from anxiety about how my poem will be received. The text has been created such that the reader will hopefully find something, but not be in hot pursuit of a meaning, per se.



One of the inspirations for this shape. This is an H comprised of many brands which use helvetica for their proprietary font.



Some of the erased words that went into the margins of mine. Think-marginalia…marginalized..borders…in-between-ness…merge…




Another example of 3d poetry…the page is 3d, but the words are 2d…how does this change its dynamic?


Week 8 CST

The mind croggling Ponzi scheme is the closest thing to a business model we’ve heard yet from the chip-addled techno-hippies of the New Work and its post-boom incarnation.” Makers, 243

“He’s the king of the trolls.” Makers, 244

It’s worth noting that at the end of his nasty article, Freddy leaves the email “honestfred,” so at least on some level he thinks or pretends to think that he’s just being honest. How would it affect us if we added to our CST observations 1 person who conspired against everyone else?

If someone pointed out all the folly of a young college kid like me trying to explore meaning by 3-d printing poetry, maybe a little too idealistic about it, I think it might just make me want to do it better. I don’t know if we need someone who is blatantly mean, because it would kind of hurt my feelings if I got a Freddy-like critique. But I feel like people just kind of accept other peoples’ projects without getting to know the intricacies that well and just say “wow that’s cool.” I’d like to teach other people about my project just so I can learn more about it.

Week 7 CST

How does Suzanne’s work as a journalist compare and contrast to Perry an Lester’s work as inventors and tinkerers?

Suzanne writes stories for the movement Perry and Lester have kept alive since the new work era, and the people she writes about create pieces of mechanical genius and the forum in which these machines are displayed. The big similarity, however, is the fact that these two types of professions are both very creativity-heavy by definition, but the actual work is comprised primarily of anything but. We barely hear about Suzanne struggling with the headline of her work, or losing sleep over whether she portrayed a certain project the right way. Similarly, we don’t hear very often about Lester or Perry needing to put the final touches on the inner workings of their machines. As we get later into the quarter, I am realizing that the blue rabbit project has so deceivingly little to do with the creative process and more to do with a series of research steps processed through a series of programs and iterations.


*****DIsclaimer: My bibliography did not copy and paste. I will fix it soon, but note that I do have one on the printed form at the moment.


Cameron Ball


Confront the problems with language I have been having.

“Poetry enacts and tells the open secret”

“What is the answer?,” asked Gertrude Stein as she was being wheeled into a surgery room where she would later die. Upon getting no response, she responded: “in that case, what is the question?”

What is it that I have been trying to say?


How can the combination of two extremes of linguistic expression be put forth in a 3d format to make the creative process more intuitive?

What are the implications of making something that you do not know the meaning of into matter?

Zaum: “A language which does not have any definite meaning, a transrational language” that “allows for fuller expression.


Descriptive, rational language using the binds of language that Zaum is trying to disrupt


3 dimensional text


Bonus points:

  • “display and juxtapose elements at the same time”, like paintings
  • create a Tralfamadorian text
  • put this new mode of deliberative creative choices balanced with liberative practices “into conversation with an interrogative dynamic” in order to figure out what words to omit and which ones to keep

The terms on which I have been asked to justify my project are all oriented towards a utilitarian pragmatism. Is it worthy to print? Why is it meaningful to print? How does it help you progress from a to b? These questions are in direct opposition to the thesis of Zaum, which is itself an antithetic thesis. I can work with convoluted contradictions, but it is necessary to note that this will, in fact, “make nothing happen.”


Let’s call the part of the brain that produces meaning, or in this case, words, a word extruder. If my creative process was a Makerbot, the temperature of the extruder would constantly be off. The ideological filament that started out solid is either overheated into mush or undercooked so that it won’t stick to the previous layer. Also, my word extruder doesn’t know how to decide how much infill to put inside of the model. Whatever shell I create might be too dense, or too light and airy to support itself. My own mental makerbot doesn’t even extrude the sweet smell of expired pancake syrup when it creates things.(smell the makerbots while they print, trust me.) It isn’t my fault, just the fact that humans aren’t as precise as computers, and sometimes they have no idea what or how to extrude.

Maybe my word extruder isn’t an extruder per se, but the word “extruder’s” odd cousin, “nozzle.” It derives from the word nose, “small spout.” The muse hits my nozzle with sneezes of creativity, inspiring me with a breath big enough to blow mnemosyne’s boogers out into a transrational tissue. And I get embarrassed when I sneeze in public. When I don’t have any tissue to write on. This isn’t the extruder’s determined, straight-lined, and confident process. This is my personal language disorder.

I will be working with the Cubo-Futurism of the early 20th century Russian avant-garde. My main imports from this school of linguistic experimentation will be Roman Jakobson’s strict descriptions of language and its features, Krucenykh’s idea of Zaum, and Vasily Kamensky’s format, word, choice, and gut feeling of his ferro-concrete transrational poem “Tango with Cows,” while balancing it with a type of poetry oriented towards sense: confessional phrases not unlike Robert Lowell’s very quintessentially poem-ish poems. These confessional, rational, descriptive segments are important  because the contrast between liberated words and deliberated words will deal with the Barthesian notion of the death of the author. Barthesian duality, so to speak.

Kamensky’s ferroconcrete poetry was in reference to the reinforced concrete that had recently been introduced for the building of skyscrapers and other large and futuristic buildings. The specific example I will be using, “Tango with cows,” is called such to point out the clash between the new metropolitan lifestyle, constituents of which were learning the new dance craze called the Tango and living inside these ferroconcrete skyscrapers, and Russia’s vast history as a pastoral culture. Kamensky was one of the earlier Russian pilots until he had a near fatal crash, and returned to a literary career. Indeed, some of the poems in this book/zine/pamphlet resemble a map of land from the point of view of an aviator. The form also experiments with various fonts and typographic inconsistency, furthering the combinatorial play involved with this type of poetry. Also important to note is that it was published 100 years ago, and the first translation is underway, set to be due mid-2014. The half-truth that poetry is by definition untranslatable lets the reader of the english version see a different side of the poem than what Kamensky wrote a hundred years ago. In consequence, the interpretation is further complicated by the fact that Kamensky’s intent is clouded by the intent of the translators, and the fact that Kamensky’s original intent was that of no thetic intent.

Roman Jakobson was a French-Russian linguist who was one of the first to make counter arguments to Sausserean structural linguistics, and made significant achievements in the field of phonology, as well as semantics, poetics, and morphology. For his phonology, he drew primarily on the ideas of his sometimes interlocutor, Nikolai Trubetskoy,  who shared Jakobson’s passion for breaking down units of language to their atomic level. Later he came to America, working at Columbia, Harvard, and MIT, and advanced Charles Sanders Pierce’s semiotics and strongly influenced Claude Levi-Strauss and Barthes. It is important to note that if one spends enough time looking up Jakobsonian linguistics, one will discover that he got his start in his teens writing weird sound poetry under the name Aljagrov, experimenting with transrational language that was being studied by the poets surrounding his Literary Circle. He then went on to make a very descriptive analysis of the distinctive features of language, applying a set of binaries to each of the seven features, giving each a (+) or (-) value. This marriage of a disciplined and descriptive set of binaries to classify sounds and language contrasting with the system of free play at work in his sound poetry is the direction I hope to go with my project. I cannot read pages and pages of pure sound poetry, or pure semiotic freedom. Sound poetry can be put into conversation with confessional, descriptive, rational phrases to highlight the folly of our language and make it much more meaningful. The fact that the seemingly rational looks silly next to pure sounds, and vice versa creates the dissonance and delightful constellation of meaning that is left to be desired when I read something that is on the opposite side of the spectrum from rationality.

I will be weaving these threads from the back side of the tapestry, turning a disorganized mess of thread into an impossible to disentangle constellation of meaning, using sneezes from the muse as my source of inspiration. The typographic experimentation will come later, as will the thinking about the specific form this is going to take. What form is most advantageous to the concept I am trying to convey? How can I use the possibilities of the printing baseplate to make something happen by “making nothing happen?”

Week 6 CST observations

“Stories are how we understand the world, and technology is how we choose our stories.” (176)

In the talk that Jed gave on tuesday, he said that “when you are immersed in language, you don’t pay attention to it.” How then, might we apply that to this notion that technology is how we choose our stories? We are arguably very immersed in our technology, and it would be a departure from the norm to step back and look at how those stories are made, or what they are even. Jed talked about language becoming palpable when you are forced to pay attention to it, and I would like to end this thought with a quote from a linguist referenced in both my and Jed’s bibliography: “The artist-innovator must impose a new form on our perceptions, if we are able to detect in a given thing those traits that went unnoticed the day before. He may present the object in an unusual perspective, he may violate the rules of composition canonized by his predecessors.” The key to making meaning palpable is through ostranenie, or defamiliarization-or Ezra Pound’s “make it new”. Why then, does the word “weird” have such a negative connotation?


“I thought we should get you an antique tool, something so well made that it was still usable.” (187)

I was thinking a lot about where the crossroads between wood, metal, 3d printed stuff, and our bodies lie. In order to make the 3d printer a more sustainable and economic tool, we may want to utilize older things to use as parts of tools or instruments. The question is, what is so well made that it is still usable? It would be quite the project to print only what was absolutely necessary and use recycled materials for the rest. You could print the body of  guitar and use strings and parts from an otherwise broken one, or instead of using precious time and filament to print a handle for a tool, you could use a piece of wood.

Aphasia- A Language Disorder

“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.




Works Cited:
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.

Lester’s Woes

“I mean, is it safe?” (Doctorow 101)

“What is outside the head may not necessarily be outside the mind” (Malafouris)

A theme I have seen with increasing frequency in Makers is the concern for safety, with the advent of the self-rearranging jungle gym, the fat burning procedure, and the rides through the museums of misfit robots. Suzanne wonders if Lester is the same person, after he goes through the radical procedure, which has given him the means to transform his psychological state through physical transformation. Suzanne wonders about the safety of the procedure, concerned with his physical health, but not the mental repercussions that occur. Lester’s physical transformation was able to transcend his skin and modify Suzanne’s mind. What would it be like to feel what Lester is feeling, having the body he always wanted, and knowing that Suzanne’s attraction to him is, if not decided, swayed by the way his body looks?

First reflection

Tinkercad shapes the style that we use for our designs, as it creates an object with a rough feel and touch when the final design is printed. The lines show where the printer extruded its filament, giving it an appearance kind of like a sketch that hasn’t been finished. Instead of trying to turn the resolution of the printer up to make the object smoother, is there a way that we can incorporate the visible, foundational lines into an aesthetic choice for the objects design? What objects would lend themselves well to spindly strands of filament and rough edges?