About A Person Who… by Miao Liu
uses the traditional fiber form of weaving to explore the cyborg as a metaphor for the occupation of a marginalized identity. This work challenges the aesthetic language of cyborgity and the visual assumption that dystopia is futuristic and chrome-finished, when everyday life is already shrouded with dystopia, especially for communities and individuals on the margins. The labour intensive and fragmentary endeavor of piecing together a self is explored through the manual splicing and recombination of pictures of Liu’s grandparents, personal vacation photos, and snippets from their diary. Likening the interlocking grid points of a weave to the data structure of pixels in a digital image, each coordinate of these experimental textiles stores memory, history, labour, and myth that become rapidly compressed in intangible digital voids.
Dispute Codicology by Alex Lepianka
My pages open and multiply. I am browsing facile etymologies on an online dictionary compiled anonymously. I follow infant words across the dictionary’s pages, tabbing book and bark, also beech, paper, and leaf. Open entries accumulate until I realize that I am browsing not pages but a volume of pages, a veritable skein of meanings flayed along the edge of my screen with half-attended essays, pornography looming incognito, a radio programme, a recipe for stewed yam, the catalogue raisonné of Diego Velazquez, and an unanswered call for submissions. As if it were my own interiority, an incessant surface faced me with all the thickness of a body.
My errant browsing demanded a method. To collect so many leaves into a sheaf, to revise interiority as a composition of such a surface, I would need a concept—an edge, fold, or tear to trim the articles lurching across the screen. Were there no edges to the page, I could receive the plenitude of surface only as feed—as alimentary substance coupled to interiority by my self-willed art of gavage. This would be the scrolling dystopia, which only a foreign definition would interrupt, circulating in the mouth like a fishbone or fleck of shell.
I approached my collection in the model of a book. For the etymologists, who strain to hear the book tear itself out of an immortal rustle, articles of inscription were already a plain ecology of surface grafted with narrative, embossed with myth, and bound into a volume. Their studies located fabulous gasps of language in a bygone wood. With their hyperlinks, crimson and blue, they situated book’s appearance amidst bark, birch, and beech. They inscribed paper with the fibres of place. Their radical constructions spritzed the letters of inscription with antiquity’s scent. Etymology took stock of an entire arbour of surface.
I find my method of collection cut into the skin of a seventh-century manuscript produced by the encyclopedist, St. Isidore of Seville. In its pages, Isidore convened the first internet (the entirety of knowledge being his patronage) and titled it the Etymologies. His performance was not definitional but admirably coquettish; his entries are marks of saintly invention, speculative accidents babbling across the wide pages of his parchment. However, when dictionaries like the Etymologies migrated online the more radical entries became host to a convivial metadata. Browsing at the surface of each page, I skim only what I need so as not to engage the production of doubt. Like the saint, I clip away, collating knowledge into a handsome pile.
Over time, my sources collected. I began to resemble a treatise–a leaf, a book, a cybernetics, even—and still I sought knowledge.
In the volumes of that specific, technical craft of book-making called codicology, I aroused an antique riddle. Its foliations were: What is collected by the name book? What acts strip a surface from a bank or bower, from the grasses and leaves already whooshing their speech? What could prepare a surface to receive inks of varying purity and intent? What suppleness thins volume yet blushes with viscera, marks, and pores? Awaiting me, codicology bristled in response.
In the Etymologies, St. Isidore charts paper from “papyrus bibulous (bibulus) because it drinks (bibere) liquid.” With comparable veracity, he renders the Latin word for book, codex, “by way of metaphor, from the trunks of trees or vines, as if it were a wooden stock (caudex, i.e. an older form of the word codex), because it contained in itself a multitude, as it were of branches.” Parched skins (membranum), “stripped from the members (membrum) of livestock,” become “parchment, with its hair scraped smooth.” My sources did not cease to gather.
In an article titled “Pluralised Humanities,” Janine Rogers writes of the dappling of matter and ideas in the parchment manuscripts of the western Middle Ages. To the medieval “codicological consciousness,” the parchment manuscript, being made of fauna, flora, and minerals, was a material microcosm of the world: the book itself materializes an “enmeshed, multivalent understanding of identity and nature.” Rogers writes that “the page of skin becomes an extension of the readers skins,” and that “the knowledge of the book … extends outward to form a space from mind to page that the reader already inhabits.”
Layers of skin announced identity in excess of my sleek browser. The process of collection demanded I fold my laptop into a riddled dossier, but knowledge could not maintain so many metaphors and devices jostling in my clutch. I carried an unnatural portfolio. I ported an entire poetics of collection. I handled a composite thing collected at the fold of semiotics and ecology, and caressed its scars. I held the fabulation of identity, tarrying to conceive how paper drinks in the world around it, how interiority exists at the surface of the page, and how such openings could be bound together with sinew.
At a certain point, my collection settled with a jot. Browser tabs evaporated into understanding. They left an immaterial residue in a fibrous structure woven with daylight. But, when I began to compose my dalliances onto the page, accretions of matter muddled what was abstract and made linearity dubious. Some marks sat fixedly on the skin, others were metabolized or washed away, and others still were ideal. The pained edges parried the triumph of the line, the regularity of the suture. They frayed the coherence of narrative. How could writing alone identify my affinity to such a collection? I had amassed an entire ecology of strips and peels.
I faced, however, still more radical entries of the book. On darkening pages, the etymologists wrote of a pathos. My collection became a troubled body. They note, for instance, that the Latin liber derives from from a possible root meaning, “to peel, cut off, harm;” its cognates are the Old Slavonic лѹбъ (lubŭ, “bark of a tree”), with echoes of the English leaf and the Ancient Greek, λυπή (lupḗ, “pain”). On beech’s page, they record a primordial violence at the fray of language, at the moment book was peeled from its trunk, etymon, root, and ground.
If collection had entailed a situated encounter with surface, inscription would register the violence of the folios’ excision, the harm done to cut skin from its native ecology and graft its interiority with an inky substance. As if to step back in humility of their discovery, the etymologists marked their recollection with an awkward, forlorn admission of doubt. “It is not known,” they write, “nor is it well imaginable, that it was the time for bookfells to be made from beeches already.” Yet, when would the time ever come to peel the bark of a beech, to prepare it as a papery surface and cut into it with myth? What would it mean to speak the name of a skin stripped for the sake of interiority?
The incorporation of a codex or volume would always draw from an arbour of surface, from a riverbank, even from the mountains beneath which server arrays and fibre optic ligatures lay darkly submerged. Surface meant a body hospitable to inscription, but interiority’s writing could not begin without an incision or cut whose tenebrous circumstances I could not readily locate within a placeless flux of pigments and dyes.
With this violence of writing, the body of surface was set into circulation. Its incorporation depended on an entire commerce of substance. Transient and opaque fluids fastened meaning to the fibres of the page. But, electrons, formulations, and gazes also tickled the body’s auspicious surface, provoking identity on the cyborg’s “electric skin.”
To orient such a dislocated portfolio toward identity, I required a cartography. I needed an account, a map I found drawn in Paul Preciado’s 2014 work of auto-theory, Testo Junkie. Preciado charts the flow of these inkstuffs as they careen across the somatic husk, tousling dendrites. Subjectivity, says Preciado, is a wingless body inscribed by the global traffic of stimulants, hormones, pharmaceuticals, narcotics, and tinctures, but also biomedical data, pornography, digital content, and narrative. But, like the classical etymologists, Preciado also notes the vulnerability of surface’s interior. In the modernity of inscription, soma bares its cheek to the force not merely of commerce but of the “pharmacological management and audiovisual advancement” of the self—to an economy of inscription and its impositions of order.
Nevertheless, the pain I carried in the strips my dossier was neither so modern as effluent selfhood nor so singular as the soma grafted with script. My strange codex was adequate to simulate the identity of a body, but the pathos of surface was society’s. As the etymologists had warned, the enterprise of inscription intended so many excisions from the rooted arbour. My browsing had arrived at the administration of writing, in courts opposed to the vibrance of chance with which the arbour grew its novel leaves.
A clerical dusk dimmed my collection. In the night of codicology, my sources advised of a deficit of paper. I witnessed prerogative eye the generosity of narrative, the plenitude of myth. An ecology gave way to political economy, which extolled the scarcity of implements, the finitude of surface, the parsimony of language. It chartered a confluence of ink, stylus, and sheet. A division of labour busied its retinue of clerks and knowledge-keepers. In their sunless bureau, they cut binding inscriptions into skin.
It is toward this political economy of language that the compilers of a Han-dynasty graphical dictionary, the Shuowen Jiezi (“Explaining Graphs and Analyzing Characters”), refer to the legendary origin of writing: when the imperial scribe “first created writing by carving in wood, the hundred officials became regulated, and the myriad things became discriminated.” Depending on how the doctrine is interpreted, the state drudgeries premier with one of two programs, either the Rectification of Names or the rectification of subjects’ behaviour “so that it corresponds to the language with which they describe themselves.” Only a writ of writing could resolve such billowing possibilities into a charter.
Wary of such doctrine, I sought shelter from the force of law. I followed the euphonious sound of liberty, and tuned my unruled browser to hear Latinity’s eloquence. L’s rolled from a Romantic bureau where the livre, the Latin liber, and the sovereign romanza were liberally housed. But, the administrators of this bureau of delicate fictions halted my free entry. I could not afford their fee to borrow my folios from the private collections of the liberal arts college and the failing libraries of the eleutheros.
No reprieve from management’s intentions could be found in these societies of inscription. Whether with authorial liberty or under the authority of law, the chartered work of scribes had long governed the admixture of subjectivities, matter, and narrative on the flayed body of the page.
By this late hour, the time has long passed for pageant and district to simply be annulled from my lexicon. Nevertheless, I toss these profanities of order in my dossier where they vye with the more tattered entries of leaf, paper, and book. Chance made a tangle of these fibres, but this tossing resembles neither an accident of economy nor a whirring charter. A vying ecology reshuffles language and arbor endlessly.
To re-collect invention, I made a nocturne of my browsing. I carried myself to a park glowing with sodium lamps. There, I stuffed my purse with a paper bag that once ferried spirits. From the alley, I borrowed a receipt; from a lanterned porch, a carton; from the curb, a dewy card. Only these scraps remained of the large bodies that passed amidst stricture, shedding generously. All of these pages could not be paper due to an excess of purpose, a boot print, or an impression of ash.
These surfaces were parts registering a whole. They were pleasures of the skin, impressed in the security of the alley, the island, in private rooms and salons rented at great expense. For long moments, paroles were kept liquid with vials of rumour; flirtations circulated like canapés. Particles, precipitates, milky suspensions, and fumes mingled in the aether with gossip, caprice, and fragments of theory. Without abstraction, the inky flux settled on the surface and became interior. Over time, a subject amassed in the body of the leaf.
Yet, the physics of these parties was often immaterial, or displaced to make way for towering privation. The body could neither hold everything that it borrowed. Deposits rinsed away from the private concavities, the folds where unbeached particles of micaceous sand still glinted their sunlight. Faltering, memory could not renew the time or agents within.
Still, my browsing alone sufficed to prove that my skin could inhabit environments of grace, or drink from the small fortunes that persisted despite the piled-up troubles. The scraps of surface I collected, too, sufficed to pen my affinity to the object of my collection. With a local flourish, my language undoubled thought and thing, swerving across the scraps of surface that I had gathered into an identity—book.