Thursday, 30 April 2009

small canoes

I was very interested to read this:

The canoe worked out fine, but was larger than necessary from the headwaters down to Bemidji. Bemidji State University’s Outdoor Program Center rents smaller (pre-scratched) canoes that would have been more appropriate for that first stretch.

I agree that it might well be a good idea to hire one of these smaller canoes and then up-grade in Minneapolis. I've been jotting down a list of things that would need to be done before we set off and most of them can be done from a distance. This seems the ideal way to avoid having to do a lot of preparation in situ.

Incidentally, I followed the links you posted and was looking at some photos of the river in its very early stages - it made me very excited! (Have ordered a big map of Minnesota for my wall at work...)

two ways to make blog public

I'm writing in haste, so I'll keep this morning's posts short. But, yes, I think it might be good to open up the blog a little. There are two options really: (1) completely remove any restrictions on access, the only possible problem being that people might find it through google's search engine (although perhaps you can ask them not to include it?), or (2) keep it a private blog but give others access on an individual basis. I'm sort of erring towards (2) but don't have strong views either way. Any thoughts?

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

make blog public?

it occurs to me we could make this blog public and not publicize it particularly... this way we could send interested others here as we like... I don't have a problem with others reading what we've got going here, even though it's not really been set up for public consumption. what do you think?

read so far

just for the sake of completeness, I feel like I should post the books I've read regarding the project so far:

read so far:

John M Barry: Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 And How It Changed America (1997)
Walker Percy: The Moviegoer (1961)
Mark Twain: Life on the Mississippi (1883)
Eddy L. Harris: Mississippi Solo: A Memoir (1988)
Robert Coles: Doing Documentary Work (1997)
Michael Eric Dyson: Come Hell or High Water: Katrina and the Color of Disaster (2006)
Jonathan Raban: Old Glory: A Voyage Down the Mississippi (1981)

documentaries about Katrina:

Spike Lee: When the Levees Broke
Trouble the Water
Axe in the Attic
Ken Burns' Mark Twain documentary

right now I'm re-reading Huck Finn and also reading another account of heading down the river by Nick Lichter, called The Road of Souls: Reflections on the Mississippi. I also have a book by William Least Heat Moon called River Horse, in which the author voyages ACROSS America by boat....

James Agee

an article from Harvard Magazine about James Agee:

Yet even here, Agee managed to snatch a kind of victory from the jaws of defeat. For if he hadn’t gone to work at Fortune, he would not have been assigned to write an article on the dire condition of white Alabama sharecroppers; and if it were not for that assignment, he would not have found the subject of his strangest, most important book, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. Agee’s editor paired him with Walker Evans, the photographer, and while the two men were enthusiastic about the assignment, they drove south not knowing exactly what to look for or where they would find it.

Agee’s revelation came when he decided to spend three weeks actually living with the cotton-farming Burroughs family in their primitive shack, getting to know them and their neighbors, the Tingle and fields families. Suddenly he was no longer writing a magazine article about a socioeconomic problem; he was undergoing something very like a spiritual ordeal, in which he was granted a vision of the infinite value of each individual human being, even or especially the poorest. It is no wonder that when Agee returned to New York and tried to write about the experience for Fortune, the draft he produced was immediately rejected by his editor.

This rejection liberated Agee to turn the article into a book. It would take five years before Let Us Now Praise Famous Men finally appeared, in August 1941—partly because of legal complications with various publishers, partly because of Agee’s own compulsive rewriting of the manuscript. The delay meant that Agee missed whatever commercial opportunity he might have had—the agricultural depression had given way to the war as the major issue of the day.

Photograph by Walker Evans, courtesy of the Library of Congress

Walker Evan’s iconic image of the Fields family.

Photograph by Walker Evans, courtesy of the Library of Congress

Walker Evan’s iconic image of Floyd Burroughs from Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.

But while the book Agee produced is still usually referred to, even today, as an exposé of agricultural poverty—a How the Other Half Lives for the Cotton Belt—that is true of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men only in the sense that Walden is a book about pond ecology. In fact, Agee’s book is a long meditation on the difficulty of capturing reality in language, on the incomparable uniqueness of the individual soul, on the prison of American materialism—much the same themes that inspired the transcendentalists a hundred years before.

canoe information

Jeff sounds like he might be an ideal source of advice and ideas, and if we can enlist him to join us, that'd be totally cool, too! right now, I'm feeling like the idea of inviting a whole array of different people to participate as they like might be a really wonderful thing. instead of the solo trip I originally envisioned, it becomes a sort of fragmentary ragged little caravan of assorted folks with a variety of perspectives and interests in doing the trip. I doubt it will get out of hand, because how many people are really crazy enough to drop everything and come along? but those who do will be self-selecting to be interesting companions, I think!

anyway, I'm trying to keep focused on a few things OTHER than this project, but I couldn't help doing a bit of googling about canoe travel after our conversation yesterday:

the latter had this little tidbit:

The canoe worked out fine, but was larger than necessary from the headwaters down to Bemidji. Bemidji State University’s Outdoor Program Center rents smaller (pre-scratched) canoes that would have been more appropriate for that first stretch.

so maybe we should rent a smaller canoe (or borrow kayaks) for the first part of the trip and then outfit an expedition canoe when we get to Minneapolis? this might mean no need to scope out MN in June, we could just show up in late July and get started...


Great to talk again last night! I was just telling Jess Dubow, one of the other Sheffield people involved in the project, about our plans. Her boyfriend (partner? significant other?), Jeff, is American and lives in Florida. He's ex-US army and is now an academic geographer working on climate (which, given the focus on flooding, might be useful in itself). He's also a lovely guy - I met him last time he was over here and I really like him.

Anyway, Jeff is a southerner (from Mississippi, I *think*, although don't quote me on that) and, because of his military training and his work in physical geography, has a lot of experience of expeditions like ours. Jess reckons that he knows some parts of the Mississippi pretty well too.

She suggested that, at the very least, we might talk to him about some of the practical (and, maybe, climatological) aspects of the trip, but she also suspects that, once he hears about it, he might well want to come along (which, because he's very practical and capable, might be quite a good thing?)

Anyway, Jess is out of town for a few days now, so I'll talk to her about it further on Friday.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009


I hope you don't mind - I thought I'd post your message about modes of transport on the blog because it occurred to me that these practical decisions may well turn out to be important when we come to talk/write about the project later. They will have implications for the kinds of things we discover and what we do with them.

one thing to start thinking about is HOW we want to travel down the river. possibilities include


bicycle (there are bike trails along pretty much the whole river)


I do not own any boats, have some experience kayaking and canoeing, but not a lot. canoes are bigger than kayaks, so better if we are carrying all our stuff, but kayaks are more maneuverable. perhaps a 2-person kayak would have some decent storage space? something to look into.

if we have a series of intern/assistants, they could drive (I own a car) and meet us each day with tents, computers, etc. I could probably line up an intern or two for some chunk of the trip, which might be a good idea. they could function as research assistants, tech heads to update blogs as we go, etc.

we could start with self-powered and switch to a motorboat once the river gets bigger. although I have even less experience with a motorboat than with self-powered boats. (one can kayak for free in the hudson starting may 16, which I am planning to do to get some more experience...)

I have no idea what boats cost, especially now. there was an NYT article about people abandoning boats like crazy in these times, so we might be able to find a great deal on a boat and then sell or donate it at the end of the trip. also, snowbirds sometimes want people to bring their boats south for them in the winter, which might be something we could work out. trouble is, I don't like the SOUND of a
motor, of course. I have an idea that one of the things I'll want to do is record the sound of the river: industry and nature both, but a constant drone of OUR motor would make that pretty dull...

it'd be good to get an idea of your gut feelings about all this, since that's part of what I'm figuring the end of June trip is all about: scoping out the best approach to transportation...

just to mull over for now...

highway 61 is of course a reasonable thing to do in a car, as well, but this is the easy way out... hard to slow down enough to do it right????

Monday, 27 April 2009


Just a quick post to say that I LOVE these ideas - they feel so RIGHT as a focus for our work and there's so much for both the mind and the heart in all this. I'm not going to write a lot now because my computer is playing up again - grrrrr! - but I've ordered Robert Cole's books on documentary and stories. I think it's a good idea to divide up the reading, but, from what you've posted, I really like the feel of Cole's writing and I'd like to take a look. I'll also get some books on oral history out of the library tomorrow and I'll post any material that strikes me as I read. And I thought I might make a start on John dos Passos, 'USA', too. This is just incredibly exciting...PERFECT!

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Dyson: Come Hell or High Water: Hurricane Katrina and the Color of Disaster (2006)

• the Deltaic Plain and the Chenier Plain are two wetlands fed by the Mississippi River that are undergoing profound shrinking and deterioration, which makes hurricanes more substantially more dangerous and destructive (p.84)

The perils and possibilities of exile and migration are painfully familiar moments in the collective memory of black America. (p. 116)

Black folk have been a pilgrim people, a wayfaring group, a folk who are rarely ever really at home, unsettled, always uprooted, forever migrating from place to place, exiles in their own country, their movements spurred as much by tragedy as opportunity. (p. 198)

On the one hand we are called to play the good Samaritan on life's roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that the men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life's highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. MLK, Riverside Church, "A Time to Break SIlence" A Testament of Hope, p. 241

Charity is no substitute for justice. (p. 152)

Justice is what love sounds like when it speaks in public. (p. 203)

• Nas, the hiphop guy with his father Olu Dara: a song called Bridging the Gap.

Wade in the Water: the spiritual that talks about "trouble the waters"

• MLK quoting Amos: "justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream."

Robert P. Moses and Charles E. Cobb, Jr. Radical Equations: Civil Rights from Mississippi to the Algebra Project

bibliography from Coles

Coles: The Call of Stories: Teaching and the Moral Imagination
Coles: The Call of Service: A Witness to Idealism
William Carlos Williams: Paterson
Dorothea Lange/Paul Taylor: American Exodus
Wright Morris: God's Country and My People (? not sure ?)
Henry James: The American Scene
Anthony Walton: Mississippi: An American Journey
Chekov: The Island: A Journey to Sakhalin
Pare Lorentz: The River (a book as well as a film!!)
Let Us Now Praise Famous Women: Women Photographers for the US Government, 1935-1944
Geoffrey O'Hara: A Long Road Home: In the Footsteps of the WPA Writers
Lee Freidlander: The Jazz People of New Orleans
Zora Neale Hurston: Dust Tracks on a Road
John Dos Passos: U.S.A. <--- amazing, to think about this, no?!?!
Jane Kenyon: Otherwise

the red ones are books I would particularly like to try to get to before long...

Robert Coles: DOing Documentary Work (1997)

Don't you see, that's been our story–the black story: everyone calls us something! It's so hard for any single one of us to be seen by you folks [white people], even the kindest of you, even our friends [among you] as a person, nothing more. That's where we are; that's where we're coming from; that's our 'place' in all this! You folks–can be yourselves! You can wander all over the map. You can be here and you can be there. You can go set up your tent wherever you think it'll do you good! That's great–for you! That's what it means to be white, and have a good education. You can look at things with a microscope or a telescope, and from way up in the mountains and down near the seashore, and when it's sunny and when it's raining cats and dogs, and then, later, when you write or you publish your photographs–you're not a white writer, or a white photographer. You're free of the biggest label of them all, the one that defines us every single minute of our lives! So, you can take all roads, and you can stop at any gas station or restaurant while on he way. Us–we're trying to get people to give us just a little break, to call us Mister or Missus, to let me go where I please without thinking I might get arrested, and even killed. So, it's location, man, location, for us: where we're at, and where you're at, and where we can go, and where you can go–that's why I favor stopping to look at one person, then the next, and not running all which ways to corral folks into someone's pen, some circle, with a fence around it.

Bob Moses, the leader of the Mississippi Summer Project, SNCC
quoted in Coles, page 40

Sometimes I have to distinguish between what I am hearing, and what I wanted to hear from the person, before I even met him! ... That's our job, to make sure where we stop and our patients start: their concerns as opposed to our sense of what their concerns 'really' are–or should be.

Erik Erikson, quoted in Coles, page 43

The issue, was not these people nearby [at the Harvard Faculty Club], eating their lunch and conversing spiritedly about matters of the intellect, but my own readiness to use them, to keep looking long and hard at them rather than inward at the turmoil of memories, aspirations, worries that inhabited my own head. Moreover, as is so often the case with the one who scapegoats, the issue was finally what bothered me about myself: the wish to follow suit, to join those professors, to be one of them down the line–and to do so by writing up the documentary research done in the very place I'd just left. The more I let myself get worked up about people sitting in the Harvard Faculty Club whom I really didn't know, the more time I spent bashing folks in the tradition of Agee and Orwell, the less time I'd have to do what Mrs. Bridges was quietly hoping I'd do–hold her "people" in memory, remain in touch with them in whatever way seemed suitable. We forget about others in many ways–sometimes by becoming newly preoccupied with a righteousness that turns into self-righteousness, and feeds on any and all victims, many of them made up on the spot.

pp. 72-73

When you say 'documentary,' you have to have a sophisticated ear to receive that word. It should be documentary style, because documentary is police photography of a scene and a murder. . . that's a real document. You see, art is really useless, and a document has use. And therefore, art is never a document, but it can adopt that style. I do it. I'm called a documentary photographer. But that presupposes a quite subtle knowledge of this distinction.

Walker Evans, quoted in Coles, p. 130

[Reporters and photojournalists] know so very well how to go meet people, talk with them, take pictures of them, right away take their measure, decide when and how to go further, look for others to question. They know how to make those utterly necessary first steps (find contacts, use them) that the rest of us can be slow in realizing will make all the difference in whether a particular project will unfold.

p. 138

We speak, especially, about "seeing for oneself," as [Erik Erikson] keeps putting it–the importance of "making a record that you the writer can believe, before you ask someone else to believe it."

p. 144

For [Dorothea Lange], making a shot is an adventure that begins with no planned itinerary. She feels that setting out with a preconceived idea of what she wants to photograph actually minimizes her chance for success.

Willard Van Dyke in 1934, quoted in Coles p. 154

I have a cousin who is a New Hopi; he went to a BIA school, and lived with the Anglos in Albuquerque. He came back to us and said that he doesn't look at the mesa anymore, he doesn't watch the clouds, see them meeting, leaving each other, doing a dance for us. He thinks about them; he talks to himself about them. He wishes his head could be quiet, the way it used to be. Stick with the Anglos, and you have a noisy head!

A 14-year-old Hopi girl, interviewed by Robert Coles, quoted on p. 161

I worry about who's doing the "documenting," and what a person has in mind to see–before they even get here to take a look or take a listen! I say to myself: will they "document" our tears, but not our smiles? Will they "document" our rough times, but not show us having a good time, now and then–no matter how poor we be, and how down-and-out it gets for us, and how bad the treatment we receive from Mr. White Man? I know we need outsiders to lend us a hand. The people who run this country won't budge, unless they're pushed, and no one hereabouts who's got dark skin is going to push very long, without getting a bullet through the heart, or being pushed right into the Mississippi River!

But if people come here, and they want to help us, and they try to help us–but they end up thinking of us as only in trouble, and only in pain, and only persecuted–then we'll end up with the world getting the wrong picture about us. We'll end up appearing the way the Klan people want us to appear–as bad off as animals, and all the time whining, like a cat or a dog. The truth is, we've got bad troubles, but we're children of God, and we know how to hold our heads up high, and we're not always slinking around like animals do, and we can pray and we can look ourselves straight in the eye and not be ashamed, and we can sing–oh yes, we can! I told some people who came by last week–they be from New York City and California–that I saw those records in their cars, the jazz and the spirituals: it was all our music, and if we can make that music, it's a sign of God smiling on us–amazing Grace! They should "document" that part of us, too, you know.

A black minister in Greenwood, Mississippi in Summer 1963, speaking to Coles' wife, quoted on pp. 169-70

[According to Wright Morris,] writers like Mark Twain and Thomas Wolfe and Hemingway got caught in the traps of nostalgia; they allowed the past to define the present, to narrow their vision of what is in store for us, and ultimately they paid the price as writers. Henry James certainly sought out the past, and even left his native land to find it, but, says Morris, "We have had hundreds of exiles, and many of them talented. . . .Among all of these exiles, he alone is not a captive of the past."
p. 195

The experience of service can soon enough prompt a need for reflection–and so it is that documentary work can itself become a kind of service: the narrative work done among those vulnerable "others" can enable us to stop and reflect upon who "they" are, and what "we" are trying to accomplish.

p. 251


okay, I've just gotten off the phone from our discussion of turning the River Project into our Archives of Exile project: I am SOOOO excited: I think this is just a great idea for so many reasons! having you as my collaborator on this is exactly right! I'm so laughing that we didn't think of it before!

so here's the first link I want to share: a "soundmap" of NOLA: we could use this as a model for a constantly accruing soundmap/AudioBlog of the river journey...

Wednesday, 15 April 2009


While I was in Istanbul, I took some photos of inscriptions in the different scripts that have been the city's official form of writing at different times. Here are a couple:

idea #2

And another idea, not to do with script but still to do with 'other' languages. How about we create a collection/archive of voices using this method:

1. Seek out participants who live in the UK or US but grew up in another country speaking a language other than English. (Or, to include people from the Caribbean or other parts of the English-speaking world, a very different variety of English.)

2. Ask them to record something of their choice in their other language - they can choose what it is provided that isn't too long and is meaningful to them: a childhood rhyme, a poem they memorised, a joke, a story, etc.

3. Ask them also to talk about what they have chosen (in English). Perhaps they would talk about why the material they have chosen has to be in the other language - what its associations are - what happens if you try to translate it.

4. The two spoken texts become a single one through editing - a text and its commentary, perhaps, but in spoken form.

5. We might initially think that the people whose voices we are hearing are themselves being presented as exiles. But it slowly emerges that *we*, the audience, are going into exile through our contact with the material - we find that we are on the outside and looking in to a range of material that is important to our speakers and just out of our own reach.

idea #1

OK, here's an idea... Incidentally, I'm not trying to push this idea - just recording it as it occurs to me. I only say that because I'm mindful of your Beijing opera man. I have no particular end in mind. I'm here for the journey :o)

If scripts turn out to be interesting, perhaps the music could be accompanied by short texts in other scripts presented almost as art objects. This would not be a case of the texts working to contextualise the music - in fact, quite the contrary: the texts would be absolutely indecipherable to most of the audience (and, even if someone could read the Armenian text, s/he probably couldn't read the Tamil, or whatever, too...) They would be there framed on the wall (in the exhibition) or projected (at a performance) or printed (in sleeve notes) as a sign of something completely different - inaccessible, strange, and foreign (like the blue photos from the railway station). But what the audience *hear* as they look at these intriguing but inaccessible visual pieces might start to open them up by presenting the voices that are locked away in the foreign script.

scripts and project themes

Scripts, alphabets, and writing systems seem to fit with the theme of this project in a number of ways:


Most writing systems work by recording the way in which a speaking voice would pronounce the words of the language. So, the written form ‘cat’ has no direct relationship with the concept it evokes – it is simply a transcript of the sequence of sounds that English speakers use to summon up that concept. Even Chinese writing, which we often think of as recording concepts rather than sounds, has strong phonetic elements. The omniglot site puts it like this:

The majority of characters in the Chinese script are semanto-phonetic compounds: they include a semantic elements, which represents or hints at their meaning, and a phonetic element, which shows or hints at their pronunciation.

Xu Bing’s piece trades on the fact that Chinese characters suggest a sound as well as a meaning, so that, if you ‘spell out’ English words in Chinese characters, you produce strange ‘messages’ like ‘big cloth six’.


Writing systems only capture a few elements of the speaking voice – just enough for us to understand which word is intended. All sorts of phonetic detail is left out and that is detail that may be VERY meaningful to us when we hear another person speak, giving clues about where they are from, how they feel, whether they intend to be sarcastic etc. So ordinary scripts are terribly flawed if we REALLY want to capture the speaking voice and people with a serious professional interest in these things have devised ever more creative ways of transcribing voices so that more and more information is retained.

Rousseau believed that language originated in music. He argues that the first language was like singing and that writing, although useful, ruined its expressiveness by fixing it too much and suppressing all the beautiful variation.


Archiving voices

Writing systems enable us to archive voices by capturing the ephemeral experience of speech in a lasting form. We can still ‘hear’ the voices of the ancient Egyptians and Babylonians by means of their writing.


Precisely because writing does not capture everything about the voice, written archives are partial. They only encode a part of the experience of hearing speech and miss out the rise and fall of the voice, the volume of an utterance, interruptions, the murmurs of assent, the particular pronunciations of individuals or groups. The systems of transcription that I mentioned earlier are useful in this context but, in fact, there is always a subjective quality to even the most rigorous systems of transcription. And, of course, illiterate people cannot use the technology of writing to make their own archives of their own voices. Oral traditions may provide a way of passing on an archive THROUGH speech but our perception of oral cultures is often very romanticised (as Rousseau’s enthusiasm for pre-literate language might make us suspect). These considerations have led some researchers to celebrate technologies that allow us to capture the voice itself (recording equipment of all kinds) but an audio recording isn’t a perfectly transparent record of a past moment either and one critic has coined the term ‘tape fetishism’ to describe the overly reverential way some researchers treat their recordings.

Scripts as archives

As you said in an earlier post, alphabets and other scripts are also collections in their own right. The particular signs used in a script have their own history. Our alphabet, like a range of other modern scripts, originates in the Phoenician writing system and it has often been suggested that the letter forms originate in pictograms. (A is supposedly a stylised drawing of an ox’s head.)


The status of modern scripts as archives is not always transparent to those who use them. How often do we think about the origins of A in a drawing of an ox head? :o)


I think that, whenever we engage with a foreign language, we enter a kind of state of exile. As long as we are using the ‘other’ language, we are not at home and that can be both troubling and thrilling. We have to make our way through a sort of mental landscape and, indeed, a soundscape, that is unfamiliar and strange. This can be upsetting, frustrating, even humiliating – but it can also result in our seeing the world afresh. Reading a ‘foreign’ script is a special instance of this experience.


Interestingly, reading a foreign script makes one child-like, perhaps even more than speaking a foreign language. When one speaks a foreign language, one has to deal with the fact that one’s vocabulary is limited and, because of limitations in one’s grammar, one often has to adopt ways of speaking that probably sound quite unsophisticated to native speakers. But that is not quite like being a child – the nature of the limitations is different. With a foreign script, though, one becomes child-like in a much more literal way. Like a child, one doesn’t have the dexterity to produce elegantly formed versions of the characters and, while reading, one stumbles through, spelling words aloud to make sense of them. And there’s a kind of paradox here: we’ve said a number of times that adulthood is a state of exile from childhood but, in the exilic state of reading a foreign script, one becomes strangely childlike again.

These are some of the thoughts that have been going through my head when I think about writing systems. I’m not sure how useful any of this is at a MUSICAL level, though?

Monday, 6 April 2009

syllabaries as tables

One of the things that I find intriguing about syllabaries is that, whereas we usually think of alphabets in terms of a list (a, b, c, etc, α, β, γ, etc), syllabaries are usually presented as tables. So this is the Japanese katakana syllabary:

And this is the Cree syllabary:

This isn't a scholarly linguistic comment at all - just a personal reaction - but these diagrams make me think of cards laid out on a table like a game of patience or a tarot reading.

useful website

I've just remembered this really helpful website on writing systems:

Along the top of the page are links to sections on alphabets, syllabaries, and syllabic alphabets (the latter group being the scripts like devanagari, which are poised between alphabets and syllabaries). And there is also material on abjads (alphabets that only represent the language's consonant sounds, Hebrew and Arabic being examples) and semanto-phonetic scripts (like Chinese).

alphabets and syllabaries

I think there's a lot to say about this business of writing systems and I'll post what occurs to me in chunks rather than all at once. The first thing is that, I *think* the majority of today's writing systems are either alphabets or syllabaries.

Both types of script work by creating a written equivalent for the pronunciation of a word. Alphabets analyse words into their component speech sounds and record those, whereas syllabaries have a separate sign for each of the syllables that can occur in the language and the signs for syllables that begin with, say, the same consonant don't necesarily look alike at all. For example, these are the signs for the syllables na, ni, and no in the Japanese katakana syllabary and there is obviously no constant element in all three that represents the sound /n/:

Some scripts occupy a sort of middle ground between the two: the devanagari script, which is used to write Hindi and Sanskrit, is probably best understood as a syllabary but the signs for each syllable are much, much more predictable than they are in, for example, the Japanese syllabaries.

I think that, to us, alphabets and syllabaries look less intriguing than ideographic writing, but actually there's quite a lot going on in them and I'll post a few thoughts on that later today.

Sunday, 5 April 2009


I tried to comment on your last two posts, but they disappear into thin air, so I'm going to just write a new post and hope for the best!

regarding the images from the train station, I really like them: I like the washed out color combined with the really clear and clean typography, which makes me feel I ought to be able to read what the signs say, even though I don't know those alphabets...

regarding collections and mistranslation (two posts ago), I'm thinking how an alphabet is itself a collection, of how part of the strangeness of Chinese for anyone not literate in Chinese is the character system, which is not an alphabet in the way Greek, Cyrillic, Arabic, Hebrew, etc. are. what other character systems are there than Chinese? or is everything else currently in use an actual alphabet? how are archaic writing systems different from Chinese, hieroglyphs, etc? I don't know anything at all about this stuff, and I'm curious if you can give me a bit of an overview...


Saturday, 4 April 2009

other scripts

I've been thinking a lot about your Chinese material and about encounters with other languages in general. At the railway station here in Sheffield there are some big blue posters welcoming visitors to the city in a variety of languages. The posters are at the ends of the platforms and they are pretty old now and rather faded. On impulse, I went to the station and took some photos of the different scripts. I kind of like them because of the way they present the 'other' languages.