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Poem Without Language: When a Writing Becomes Traceless
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STATEMENTS© ISAST   doi:10.1162/LEON_a_01551 LEONARDO, Vol. 51, No. 1, pp. 00–00, 2018 55 POEM WITHOUT LANGUAGE: WHEN A WRITING BECOMES TRACELESS I-Lien Ho, Department of Theatre Arts at National Sun Yat-sen University, Taiwan. Email: . See for supplemental files associated with this issue. Submitted: 1 November 2016 Abstract What happens when a writing cannot perform its function of documentation and indication? In the installation performance Poem without Language, developed from the action score writing Chinese calligraphy on the surface of water, the multiple closed-circuit videos raise the question of “who” can occupy the position of the observer, challenging tunnel-vision perspectivism. Such an orchestra of gazes resonates with the spatial organization in Chinese ink landscape painting , which challenges the anthropocentric ordering of things; responds to Nam June Paik’s approach to media, which disrupts the habitual way of perceiving conditioned by the mass media; and resonates with the concept of Kongwu (空無, emptiness, nothingness) from Daoism and Buddhism. Keywords: Chinese calligraphy, Nam June Paik, closed-circuit, loop, ink landscape painting, the concept of Kongwu (空無, emptiness, nothingness), Zhuangzi, Daoism, Buddhism, observer, self, gaze. The installation-performance Poem without Language explores the technologies of writing from Chinese calligraphy to the electronic writing of camera-projection. The performance contemplates what happens when a writing cannot leave marks. Furthermore, the process of the writing gesture raises the question of whether water is written, or water is writing, which investigates the boundary between subject and object, materiality and intentionality. When linguistic markers and visual traces of gestures cannot be fixed on the surface of water as the visual referents, the traceless writing disrupts the purpose of writing and returns to the act of writing. The idea of traceless writing responds to Daoist Zhuangzi’s zhiyan (巵言) (“never-stable words” or “goblet-words”), a linguistic strategy to disrupt language’s function. Zhuangzi, one of the main founders of Daoism, challenged the hierarchy built on language’s dualistic logic and its affective influence and moral judgment. He used several examples to illustrate that value is always “perspective-bound” [1]. According to Guo Xiang, when zhi (or “a tipping-vessel”) is full of wine, it is unbalanced and therefore turns upside down; when zhi is empty, it stands upright [2]. Its instability conflicts with its function as a wine glass. Zhiyan proposed a language that is unusable for the function of communication and unable to contain any stable linguistic identification. With reference to zhiyan , Zhuangzi challenges the value of language and denies the hierarchy organized by language, such as of good over bad or strong over weak [3]. Zhuangzi’s linguistic strategy resists the violence that language (differentiating via dualism) performs, thereby releasing us from the looping effects of language. We may consider television as one electronic technology of writing that performs its function of documentation and communication . Nam June Paik used broken televisions, such as those in Zen for TV, inserting into them objects or rewiring their electronic paths. The broken or distorted televisions disrupt the production of sounds and images that serve the purpose of indicating, representing and documenting. The materiality of the instruments undermines industrial conditioning . When television is unable to show faraway things visually and sonically, expectations are disrupted, revealing the medium ’s physicality and materiality. The viewer recognizes that the television is a collection of parts and a mechanism of transmission. In this way, the viewer’s attention shifts from the message to the mechanism by which the media produces content that serves a human purpose. Bolter and Grusin defined hypermediacy as that which “makes us aware of the medium” [4]. “Sometimes hypermediacy has adopted a playful or subversive attitude, both acknowledging and undercutting the desire of immediacy” [5]. By disrupting the functioning of instruments, both Paik’s TV and Zhuangzi’s Zhiyan turns the attention to the instrument’s materiality and mechanism. Bolter and Grusin defined remediation as the complex “repurposing” between medium and response [6]. By remediating Zhuangzi’s attitude toward language and Paik’s attitude toward visual and sonic technologies such as video, we can reconsider the technologies of writing: the function and the act of writing. The Ancient Technology of Writing The action score writing Chinese...


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