Posts Tagged ‘Work-Text’

Materiality and Writing

The fixedness of print and page, its Calvinist clarity of black on white has become what in the academy we think text is. It instantiates in its material form a Cartesian separation of mind and body, with text aspiring to the ideality and self presence of thought while the page becomes forgotten as mere material, bodily substrate. Hence many disciplines perform a “logic of similitude”, as Foucault might argue, as if the verisimilitude of black word on white ground guarantees that thoughts and argument will likewise be clear and rational . Colour and picture are marginalised to the role of decoration and illustration, minor adjuncts and supplements to the ideality of text itself, while design, typography, pagination, even decisions about paper stock and cover art, become separated out as something outside of the concern and ideality of text.

My work, in a project yet to be achieved, returns the thingness of media as material stuff into the field of writing.

My oh My

Late Questions


James has a belated post asking Roland Barthes a question. Much of what James says is good, and Barthes would absolutely agree that the social is fundamanental. The essay was written at a time, and out of a period of work, where it was thought ‘meaning’ would be explainable with almost scientific precision. It is not that words don’t have meanings, but that to write and argue in a way where meaning is thought to be fixed, and as James says “social factors and learnt behaviours that give words their meaning are constantly shifting”, is to not recognise precisely this. On the other hand the comparison to Hawking doesn’t work. Here we are reading Barthes as the primary source. Hawking, while doing an excellent job of communicating to a lay public, is in this case writing to a lay public. We are not reading the Hawking’s that talks to the discipline of physics. That is, like Barthes, full of complex, dense, obdurate mathematics. The more accurate comparison would be Barthes writing about Barthes for beginners (which is what the Hawking book does). We haven’t done this, we have done the equivalent of reading Hawking’s “The Large Scale Structure of Spacetime”. The image above is from the introduction, the ‘easy’ part of the book. Just as physicists, when talking physics to each other, use a complex language, so Barthes, writing to literary and cultural theorists, also needs a complex language. After the work has been done, perhaps, then you can revisit it in simpler form, but here you have been invited to read the theoretical original work, not the popularised introduction.

Untitled 5

Alene has a good post linking Barthes, the writerly, and k-films. This way of seeing how the theory can help to understand what we are doing, and not just explain it, is very good and is the sort of thing the written part of the final project is inviting you to do.

Dating and Dancing

Sophie has a thumbnail list which is actually a cognitive map of Barthes’. Remember, find an entry into the work and exploit it. It is less about being faithful to the essay than using its terms to launch ideas. July has her own sketch of this map.

Annie corrects my lack of understanding about classical ballet. She’s right. I have none. So luckily I have her to correct me. So the ballet example makes a lot of sense for Annie, but I’d be interested in the distinction I tried to make between work as classical ballet and text as, say, modern dance (Chunky Move’s Tense Dave was my example). Is this a better example than various variations around Swan Lake?

Alene finds the dance example useful too, feels scolded (I do do that too much, don’t I) and makes good use of the garden versus forest analogy. There’s a nice list of dot points that could come in handy too.


Cassandra has a great post working through the gendered language I’ve used in relation to ‘work’ and ‘text’. About time there was talking back.

Some things to keep in mind here. The quote marks around ‘paternal’ and ‘maternal’ are there to help signal that they are not the same as male and female, but like the coloured hats roles that are performed by whoever happens to perform them. This is what I meant when I used the example of romantic comedies having a ‘work’ and a ‘text’ character. That was a smart idea that arrived while I was saying it, and it made lots of sense to me, but of course no one else. I did not mean that literally (ie a character who has a job and one who doesn’t, or similar), but one will be, well, severe, stern, strict, bit hung up about something. The other will be, well, free, liberating, casual. In some films one of these terms will be positive, the other negative. But it changes. In some films the wild one is just too wild, and so the film will have the ‘work’ character as providing that solidness that the character is thought to need. This film over there will have the ‘work’ character as just not able to see life, and the ‘text’ character will be the one that shows them how to smell the roses. But there is nothing in there about which gender these will be.

As Cassandra notes, there is not a negative attitude towards women, but I do have to stress that any simplification is an artefact of the lectures and not Barthes. The sort of stuff that floats under this, for me, is the theoretical work of women like Kirsteva, Irigary, and Wittig. (See for example Cavallaro’s French Feminist Theory an Introduction, particularly Chapter Three). Finally, bleeding. Well, some of the writers I mentioned do make this explicit in terms of a ‘feminine écriture‘ which I think has very strong affinities to Barthes’ notion of the text.

To close of this post, temporarily, Stella recognises (in a post that I think lays out the problem very elegantly) that:

The theory of the text can coincide only with the process of writing, and now I understand.
I write to understand, to make sense, to question, to convince. Writing is free space, is uncontrolled and developing, ceasing only when you stop. The text is that which you can not write down, but when you begin to try you understand. It is not tangible, can not be pinned down, or defined, but I can see it now, it is the thoughts that connect, that cut across one another, that question what came before.

This could also be an outline for a K-film, for what a K-film is, or should/could be.

Pipes and Cones

Gee, that sounds like an add for shop that sells ‘aromatic’ cigarettes, doesn’t it? Jae Won has a very nice post about a lecture on Barthes and the suggestion to identify a bit, and worry/work on that. He also provides very useful versions of the thinking drawings I provided about essay, research, and hypertext structures. This is a good shorthand outline of what some of this was trying to get to. Lindsay picks up the cone drawing and wonders if an argument is actually possible. I’d suggest it it, though it might smell, taste, look and feel different. I think poems and songs can make arguments (claims to evaluate), and they can be focussed and associate, all at once. Personally I think the Barthes’ essay is highly focussed, it is how many words about one idea with two terms ‘work’, and ‘text’, how much more focus do you think might be needed?

Carmen was lost, hopefully recent things have helped, but there remains work to do in tutes to bring ‘work’ and ‘text’ back to what we are actually doing. We will do it, just that some other things have intervened. Jenny has some notes from the ‘ask Roland’ lecture (I have the notes which I’m hoping to put online), however her observation that:

In order to do so [understand], I don’t just need to write down notes. They don’t mean anything, in the real world. In order for me to truly understand the readings, I need to ask these questions and then try to answer them by re-reading the text.

is one of the more insightful things I’ve read. So the questions you wanted to ask Roland? Ask them again, from you, to the essay and see what answer you get. Bloody good idea that. Might make an appearance in the final task, if not literally, certainly will be there in the thinking that informs the final task.

Not Working

Jo is struggling with the ideas of work and text, while Sophie has a useful listing from the first lecture. Zach stil can’t make head or tail of it (and it is good to say so, how else would I know?), while Jason wonders about Korsakow and decides he’s just followed ideas a la Barthes! Sophie has thumbnail notes from the second lecture, which just reminds me that it really didn’t make a lot of sense. Alene has very good notes, though I did make a mess of the object relations stuff and didn’t even explain why I went that particular way anyway (for goodness sake Adrian, you really confused yourself there so how could anyone else join the bits?).

However, this might help. Or it might not. YMMV.

Getting Roland

OK, simplest thing and hardest thing for y’all. Stop trying to read “From Work to Text” like it is a normal academic essay that has an introduction, body, and conclusion. Imagine, instead, that if he’d been able to write a hypertext, then it would be a hypertext. No middle, all links. It is about the movement of ideas because that is what they do. How, in our world, of ideas, of thinking what a story might be, or mean, or what media will look like in five years, can we even think to begin from a position where things are stable, sure, solid? So read Phoebe. She nails it. You are reading the academic version of a dance, where (to keep that metaphor going), most of the time, in most of your academic lives, you’ve only been shown, and read, the academic version of classical ballet. This is Chunky Move (for example Tense Dave clip here) not The Royal Ballet (say, Swan Lake).


Kathryn it turns out has a medical science degree (I’m impressed, I know how much work that involves), and contrasts medical science training with Barthes. She writes “The whole process of exploring propositions and being an engine which drives ideas goes against everything I ever learnt in science school”. I respond: “Really? At what moment don’t you think symptoms, or things in a petri dish, are not propositions and your skill set involves reading them as such? You know it is not as simple as x = x, always and forever (we don’t need to watch House to know this). You have a range of strategies, you have knowledge, you have information, they dance together if you’re good at it. This activity is closer to the text, than the work”. And Kathryn says…?