|The Alphabet is No Language|
"The Alphabet is No Language" is a piece I have been working on (& avoiding) for some time. I often do not understand what I am making, but somehow when I slid the man on the bike into the foreground it felt complete--as if the man, who just happens by, bears witness to that which cannot be coded alphabetically. (...think e. e cummings: since feeling is first...) He had this WWI feel to him and I still don't know why that might be important, but it is.
I hoped the work might say something to you about the many ways that form (in)forms meaning--conditions it so to speak. We spend considerable time at school privileging written texts and this overemphasis gives me pause.
There are some things in life for which the alphabet is no language.
Years ago when I was writing an ethnography about young women who hailed from rural communities and attended a local community college, I met Fran. In receipt of welfare payments, each woman, like Fran, was obligated to attend school and none had been able to exit the remedial program regardless of the attempts they had made to pass the composition test. At the time I was at Columbia working on my dissertation and was deeply steeped in all things Bakhtin. And so when Fran, a 20 something year old mom, told me that every bit of bad news she ever received came in the form of writing,
I dwelled in words and in ignorance. Imagine, I had not considered how written text might injure--might kill. I had been a high school English teacher at that point for more than a decade. I knew so little.
Words had been a significant source of pain for Fran. From eviction notices to court judgments to divorce decrees to teachers' notes sent home with her son--formal written text tended to reinforce difference, strip her of agency, situate her as less than, take advantage of her.
Like Fran already knew, I too have come to understand that at times, words fail and I look for other ways to sign.
Here's an important moment from 1965 that has such relevance in these CCSS-times. Then Ludwig von Bertalanffy wrote:
[i]f the meaning of Goethe's Faust, of Van Gogh's landscapes, or Bach's Art of the Fugue could be transmitted in discursive terms, their authors should and would not have bothered to write poems, paint, or compose, but would rather have written scientific treatises (p. 41)Hmm. We need to expand out notions of composition to include multiple language systems. Expression matters in and out of English class. I like to think of transmediation as the work of English teachers. Expression opens possibilities, yes?
|(Salton Sea, M.A. Reilly, 2010)|
This place stood right at the edge of the Salton Sea. The memory of it haunted me until I could express it and then haunted me in new ways.
Meaning happens between and among us. I think Rosenblatt was so right about the poem and how meaning is made between a text and its reader. We cannot forget that, especially as English teachers working in these times.
And so, sometimes I make art.
v. Bertalanffy, L. (1965).On the definition of symbol. In J. R. Royce (Ed.). Psychology and the
symbol (pp. 26–72). New York: Random House