Sunday, 31 August 2014

Ingesting 'till you can no more

The flaw in Cioran’s theory of lyricism? He doesn't account for the inexpressible. He, who considered himself a specialist in matters of death at the age of 20, saw dying possible only through externalization. As if we only died if we were extracted from ourselves. Let the world fall to pieces. Who cares? The self is forever alive. Eternity of the one awaits us if we repudiate the outside.

Cioran’s generalisation is exaggerated, of course, because writing (or lyricism) gives embodiment only to that which contains in itself the potential to be embodied. I eat what's edible. I drink what's drinkable. I breathe what's breathable. I touch what's touchable. And, logically now, I embody what's embody-able. But that's not everything there is in the World. Apart from the expressible, there is that which escapes all forms of human signification – that which doesn’t give a dead rat for our existence and exists in spite of our determination to manufacture meanings. This rest, this indescribable quantity that stands at the edge of signs without giving itself to the power of signification, this rest is what will not be spoiled by writing (if spoiling is what we fear the result of writing will be). It's in this rest that Cioran's theory doesn't hold water. It's exactly here that it fails to fulfil its own prophecy: the promise to give shape to an interior intensity.

A short digression on inelasticity

Cioran would have liked expandable I's; egos like elastic vessels, capable of holding gallons and gallons of consciousness; never to burst. That would have been the ideal for him.

Source: Design Squad Nation
Obviously, the great irony (impossible to overlook) is that Cioran himself produced books. Quite a few of them, in fact. He was the child of his own expressivity, verbose and talented like all the great writers who failed at being saints. But hey, we don't have to do what the priest does. Only what the priest preaches matters. Cioran (son of a priest – here's another irony) did not do what he himself preached. Or preached something that didn't come up in his doing. One of the two. He must have known that what he was professing had a great deal of hypocrisy in it. But truth is no deterrent. It didn't obstruct Cioran’s attempt to imagine the ideal. The Ideal (as in Plato) is a toy we can play with at our heart's content; we won't know if the game we're playing is the right game (we won't even know if what we're playing with is the Ideal!), since nothing can provide us with that confirmation. And so with Cioran: he could afford being a little naughty around the edges, imagining, like Nietzsche, a subjectivity that could transgress the world and become the World.


What would it be like to swallow everything and give nothing back? To ingest without letting out? To eat without excreting. This Cioranian ideal, this accumulation, would make us look very much like writing in its pure form, which consists of a unique storing capacity. We would carry along the baggage of our own consciousness like an archive. The way Borges' Funes carried with him the memory of the entire universe, archived so as to fit inside a single mind. But this is an archive which, sooner or later, will be read, whether we like it or not. Because reading, unfortunately(?), happens regardless of the effort we invest in writing; it happens in spite of us.
How rude! Yet how impossible to avoid!

Source: Fast Company
But let's face it: we are discourteous too. Relying exclusively on our capacity to store is harmfully narcissistic of us. O, how we'd like to enjoy the pleasure of looming large over life! As large as Being itself! But in hoping so we only confirm the true weakness that characterises us: our patronising attitude towards Being ("You, there, you're only what fits inside my brain. You are my neurons.") And also our semiotic mistake of believing that the totality of Being is the totality of us ("There's nothing else out there apart from me. In fact, there's no out-there at all".)

The Outburst

Of course, Cioran's philosophy is centred on the individual. Indeed, when faced with the outside-as-threat, we crave the isolation of our selves, where we can find the peace of mind we lack in the society of others: the peace of our mind. At contact with the complex World we could do pretty well with a mysticism of the simple I. But that's just one way (the simplest and the laziest) of dealing with the problem. The other one (in which writing is an important, if often overlooked, element) is the Outburst. In it, we take an active stance; we attack the complexity we think we're capable of by placing it vis-à-vis Being. Rather than trivialising the World, we trivialise ourselves. It's better this way (because we put ourselves in perspective and we takes away the godly burden weighing down on our shoulders), but also harder (because this relativisation translates as self-criticism, self-examination, and self-chastising).
Walking out of one's carapace comports the obvious risk of death (death which, like a microbe, comes from the outside - always from beyond us). But being out also gives us the chance to contemplate life. And BTW, we're not immortals. Life is progression; Being is Becoming. We live to die; we write to be absorbed by writing.

(Mis)reading and the refusal to write

So writing preserves in the writer an intensity and a joy that's not lost with the output. Proof? We don't always 'get' the writer's intention. We misread because we sometimes don't have a clue as to what has been put into the text. And there's something incredibly fulfilling in not having been understood; in the failure of others to read the writer's text (the text that the writer writes, as well as the text that the writer is). Even when the writer declares to be offended by this lack of understanding he observes in his readers, he is in fact pleased by it. He must be. And if he's not, he should think twice. With ignorance, he preserves intact the special status of being a writer. When you are understood, you can also be imitated, laid bare. Trivialised. But when you're looked at with suspicion and uncertainty, you're still the one who's holding the reins.

Source: Write on Target

Cioran redux

The reason Cioran is so vilified by some is because he doesn't find glory in writers. On the contrary, what he finds in them is weakness. The ones who write are, to him, the ones who want to tell the world they're fucking Claudia Schiffer. They cannot hold the breath of singularity, the subjective intensity that hurts and devastates their minds. They needs outputs. As such, writers are only big mouths. That's what they are. Expressive, wonderful, mesmerising, mind-blowing bigmouths. And when this is the case, writing appears to be an activity in need for literacy. Once out in the open, it needs institutions. It needs institutions as backups. It longs for the regularity of offices, because this regularity is where affirmation takes place. There's an office where the signing of the Mephistophelian pact is certified, and Cioran doesn't want to be a witness to this certification. Painful as it may be, it's better inside oneself than it is out, among office-workers.
But Cioran is onto something I would like to agree with. Writing/expression, once produced, takes writers out of their souls. It takes them out and puts them into a world where conducts are defined by rules. As a response to this legalistic tyranny, creativity turns inwards. It becomes turmoil in the sense of a boiling-up that is not of the world's but of the individual's. The world rejects this tension because the tension is the Truth. So not-writing is really rebellion. Refusing literacy is a pay-back. Any revolution is first and foremost an exercise in illiteracy, since the revolutionary repudiates the taken-for-granted.
In this regard, I want to agree with Cioran. But I don't know if I can keep close to him for long.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

To express is to say too much

There’s a question that we need to ask: why do we write? Not why do we produce marks on paper, but more deeply, why do we give form to that which preceded writing? What makes it so important to give up subjectivity in the name of the objective?

“I need to tell a story. It’s an obsession. Each story is a seed inside me that starts to grow and grow, like a tumor, and I have to deal with it sooner or later.” (Isabel Allende)

There’s a sore in us

Writing is a form of expression. And expression is a pressing-out, a putting-into-words. Expression is the manifestation of something that started as entirely interior, unknown to the outside: the privacy of thought. Expression, therefore, means putting an end to the life of that purely internal state. There has to be pain involved in this, because ‘inner life’ is us. Breaking up with us must by necessity produce some kind of wound; a wound which is, therefore, the direct consequence of expression.
Speaking of this conjures up the work of Emil Cioran – his philosophy of intense subjectivity and of the despair that comes with having reached the limits of life. Cioran doesn’t find much excitement in the manifested soul. Display, to him, is an infertile exercise, aimed not towards the self but towards the social world.
“Wouldn’t it be more creative simply to surrender to our inner fluidity without any intention of objectifying it, intimately and voluptuously soaking in our own inner turmoil and struggle?”
It’s hard to give an answer to this question, because the truly subjective are silent, while those who have surrendered to the argument of expression have done so without knowing what lies beyond the point of their yielding.


Being lyrical

But we can read ahead. For Cioran, the expressive drive is one that animates the weak soul (“To be lyrical means you cannot stay closed inside yourself”), as well as the practical soul, which finds in objectivity salvation:
“There are experiences and obsessions one cannot live with. Salvation lies in confessing them. The terrifying experience of death, when preserved in consciousness, becomes ruinous. If you talk about death, you save part of your self. But at the same time, something of your real self dies, because objectified meanings lose the actuality they have in consciousness.”
Not only does the writer (any writer, all writers) give in to the pressure of the internal excess, he also gives in to the even more demeaning force of social distinction. We write because there’s a need for an audience in us.

The I-write-for-myself argument doesn't stand. It has never, it will never. Because writing is not an internal action; not like thinking. Writing is external, exhibitionist, boastful. We cry from not being able to write; we feel sick. If we want humbleness and humility (and a certain health of the soul) we take to the desert; we become anchorites; we reject writing, we embrace the chaos of subjectivity, and sanctify our lives through illiteracy. Here, Cioran is right. To write means to transform an ideatic mal-formation into a material orderliness: the hidden thought made to shine on the stage of the white page.

The jungle of our thoughts

The thoughts that inhabit us are never symmetrical, never beautiful in the sense of the classical orders, never polished or chiseled or rounded at the corners, never ready-to-eat. In thinking, we know no straight lines. Trajectories are impossible to trace, not least because it would be impractical to attempt such an exercise. Where there are only thoughts, there’s only chaos. That’s why we find it difficult to stop them from progressing haphazardly.
What’s equally significant is that our thoughts are never visible to others. We can be exceptional jungles of ideas and that wouldn't show on our faces. We need to cut a highway through this jungle in order to license the access of others to the tremendous storehouses of wisdom and beauty growing inside us. It is the cutting of this highway (the necessity we feel to do so) that makes apparent our need for a lyrical manifestation. Lyricism is ex-pression. It brings out a tension built within our souls.
Cioran would have opted for a life of perpetual intensity. “I am: therefore the world is meaningless,” he shouts. That, of course, is a life of madness – in the sense in which all madness is the refusal to become social, public, visible, consumable, objectified, depersonalised, conventionalized, expressed, written. Refuse all this, Cioran suggests, and you will experience an incredible inner growth, where every new event is an addition, and every progression is progression towards death. But, he concludes, there are very few humans capable to survive this intensity.
“If you go on living, you do so only through your capacity for objectification, your ability to free yourself, in writing, from the infinite strain. Creativity is a temporary salvation from the claws of death.”
So, to answer the question asked in the beginning, we write, according to Cioran, because we must save our souls from the pain of pure subjectivity. We do so by ushering our ideas into the world. But, unfortunately, the (social) world is where diamonds are turned into mere pebbles. In the words of Nietzsche:
“Once spirit was God, then it became man, and now it even becometh populace.”

Relieving the burden

From the above, I draw the conclusion that one’s affair with writing is also one of self-betrayal. Cioran would probably find cowardice in the decision to write.
We write because we can’t resist the pressure.
We write because we are afraid we might explode.
We write because we think others will fail to see the writer in us; so we give them the heads up.
We write because there’s a worm in us gnawing at our intestines, demanding that we brag about the knowledge we possess.
There’s a joke about all this:
A man shipwrecked on a desert island, in the sole company of Claudia Schiffer [the name can be replaced with the name of any other belle-de-jour – it doesn’t really matter]. They live together on this island, un-rescued, undisturbed, for a long time. Gradually, things start developing between them, and they get to physical intimacies. They become lovers. They lead a life of sexual bliss, and the man is beside himself with joy: he’s managed to do what other men wouldn’t even dare to dream. Then, one day, he catches the proverbial gold fish, and he gets to express his more ardent desire. Without blinking, he asks the fish to produce a man. And when the man is brought about, the protagonist goes straight to him and bursts out: “Hey, you know what I’m doing? I’m fucking Claudia Schiffer.”
This is a very Cioranian joke. The need to tell the other about one’s singular experience causes output and, at the same time, triviality. Every output is triviality, to be honest. Every time something’s written down, something goes missing in the paradise of ideas. To be expressive one needs to sign a Mephistophelian pact. One needs to lose one’s soul in order to slip into the world of letters, and then to inhabit it wholeheartedly.
“And to subscribe thy name thou’lt take a drop of blood,” Goethe’s Faust is informed moments before he gives himself away.

Nietzsche again:
“Who among you can at the same time laugh and be exalted?”
This is the tragic condition of the man shipwrecked in the company of Claudia Schiffer. In order to enjoy that sexual nirvana he needs to remain incapable of laughter; to experience the miracle as ache. His singular enjoyment is painful because it knows no output. But once there’s light, once the pact has been signed (isn’t the gold fish just another Mephistophelian creature that promises in order to take the bliss away?) laughter is possible.
But alas, with it the exaltation is gone.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

The solution

I want to think about us as the vehicle through which language resolves some of its shortcomings. If we manage to agree, then I can say I have managed to demonstrate that we are ourselves the consequences of writing, the proof of its solution.

Source: Sprott's Gateaway


Language is by definition disordered and disorderly. In order to be understood, language needs some facilitators. Speech is one. By speaking out, we give language the order of our own pronunciation. Then we give it the order of our thoughts, which, of course, become apparent only when we have pronounced them. We believe there’s a close relationship between language and speech, an ontological closeness between them, that makes writing redundant. But speech isn't any less disrespectful in the way it relates to language. Speech too distorts language and the World. Rousseau, with his invitation to return to the primitive state, did not consider the exclusion of speech from the natural history of humankind. Now, of course, when we talk about the exclusion of speech we get cocky questions, like: What would you like? Turn us into animals? But that’s not what the exclusion of speech would lead to. Without the ability to speak, we’d still not be animals, because we would be endowed with the ability to signify. We are sign creators – that’s what we are at the core of our species. And signs are alive and well in speech, just as much as they are in writing.


So let’s take another turn. In order to become comprehensible, language needs to be translated. As in all types of translation, something is lost when we put language into signs (spoken, written, or otherwise).
Seamus Heaney wrote a poem called “Remembered Columns.” It goes like this:
“The solid letters of the world grew airy.
The marble serifs, the clearly blocked uprights
Built upon rocks and set upon the heights
Rose like remembered columns in a story
About the Virgin’s house that rose and flew
And landed on the hilltop at Loreto.
I lift my eyes in a light-headed credo,
Discovering what survives translation true.”

The story of the Virgin of Loreto is one of translation and transportation: an entire edifice moved over to a different, and very distant, location by unnatural means; and not just once. So the question is: What “survives translation true” when something is transported in whole, as it were? What did Heaney discover by the end of his poem? The word “credo” may give us a clue. Signs understood by means of a credo are signs enforced upon us. We don’t see the enforcement because we take pleasure in them. We pleasure ourselves with the products of writing. Does this sound erotic? Maybe there is something intrinsically erotic in the way we interact with writing. But let’s ask Freud about this some other time.

The synchronic Sign

So what was the truth discovered in the poem? Oh, yes. The truth is that, when we don’t have evidence, we need to believe dogmatically. And that, sometimes, feels like an embarrassment; like an offense to our intelligence and our power to think things through. But still, the lack of evidence hurts. How can we even say anything at all about anything at all, when we have nothing to prove we are right at all? This is where we enter the intricate labyrinth of our uncertainty, the doubt with which we approach the things of the World.
So with writing we think we have solved the problem of this lack of evidence. Through letters and words and paragraphs and pages we construct (so we think) records. We put the World on hold by means of our scribbled signs. We tame the untamed, we subject the unsubjected – by halting their aimless running about, by corralling them to a place of so-called security.
The difference between diachronicity and synchronicity is this: one is constant flow, the other is pure stasis. The World is Heraclitus' river: we cannot immerse in it twice (the river is not the same, we are slightly different). The Word, by contrast, is the very definition of the immobility that defines synchronic signs. How gracious of English language to have given us this slight confusion, this suggestive resemblance between “world” and “word,” so as to make us think they’re still very closely related, that only the way we twist our tongues inside our mouths makes the difference between them.

(See here, between 3'10''-3'50'', the urge and the equally urgent necessity to pin things down by writing.)

Words, like monuments

Can we say that, with every word we've written, we have taken another step up the flight of stairs that leads into the Museum of Immobility? There is a Madame Tussaud’s of sorts that we write ourselves into, with every word and every letter. Once written, the word stays. Here again, the glory of English language: “stay” doesn't mean just stop or stopover; it also means vacation. Vacation, as in ‘time off’; as in fleeing-some-place-in-order-to-find-comfort-in-another. Now that’s something that sends us back to Seamus Heaney. Translation: the art of fleeing the discomfort of language in order to find repose in the silence of signs. No wonder the letter is raised on a plinth that makes it look like a column. A column, as well as a monument. Writing is a monument to our presumed victory over language. What order we've managed to create! How well we've swept the floors of this untidy habitant! How intelligible we have made everything! How beautiful the World now!

Source: Wonderful Engineering
Between speech and writing there’s this important distinction: with writing, we can build monuments. With speech, we may be able to build the same monuments, but they won’t last, those oral moments. Not after writing has become predominant. With writing, we can say: Yes, there is a Chapel of the Virgin Mary on the summit of a hill in Loreto. With speech, we could only say: Yes, a miracle happened one night, when the chapel rose out of the blue (an immense, incomprehensible blue). But who would believe us? Who would do it without a credo? Who?

I was here

You see now how writing is, indeed, a solution. It solves out the impasse in which language ought to be sometimes: the difficulty of having to be believed.
Creeds are works of writing; they are memorials, reminders. Where there’s no way you can be believed, where your very reliability is placed under a question mark, you raise a monument. You write I was here, 2014. Now there will be solid truth in your statement, when you make it a few years from now. You have proof. You've planted it there. You can show it to all the unbelievers. And now you’re happy you know how to write, how to put yourself back into the world, how to occupy the world by means of written signs. Writing is, indeed, like the barbarians, a solution.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

The coming of writing

Classical theories of rhetoric are right about one thing: writing comes to us. The history of literacy is the history of how we receive this technological implement. It is a history of how we prepare ourselves for the encounter.

Source: Xenophilia

This technology

Let’s start with this. We learn to write in school. This is where we get the wrong impression (like all the wrong impressions that will come to haunt us at various points) that we have an active role in the bringing about of writing. This is where we get the intoxicating illusion that we somehow midwife writing into the world; that we are some kind of generators.
In fact, our lives are mere by-products of writing.
Writing is a technology; therefore, it is exterior to us. Writing doesn’t dwell in the same place where we dwell. In order for it to come in contact with us, we need to leave some doors open. We need to pretend we’re letting air circulate through our dwelling, while, in fact, we’re ushering writing in – our backs turned to the door, as we’re pretending to be busy doing other, possibly more important, things. Then, once the arrival is complete and writing has taken its place in our lives, we can turn our face to the door and utter, with resounding confidence, that life without writing is impossible. In the process, we grow determined enough to punish those who believe otherwise.

The journey

One thing is certain. At this stage in the history of humanity it is too late to say that we can destroy, (even alter) the tie between us and the writing-technology. The tie has become so naturalized (i.e. we have so far advanced from the mere – albeit complex – representation of wild life on the walls of a cage), we cannot imagine anything without it. Indeed, to remove writing from our lives would mean to remove lives from ourselves. This is how well we have mastered this technology; this is how well we have welcomed it.

Source: Life as a Human
The journey of writing towards us is not a simple one. To make the encounter possible at all, we need to educate ourselves; we need to break our spirits to receive the blessing of this encounter. Without training, writing would fly past us and we wouldn’t even know its presence. Isn’t this what they teach us in schools? That if you want to be a good writer you need to flagellate yourself? That good texts come with enormous quantities of suffering? That the only acceptable image of a good writer is the Romantic one of the weeping genius? Of course, the blessing itself is a formation, a cultural illusion, a machination even; and one that, unfortunately, knows no alternative. Not an acceptable one, anyway.

The barbarian force

Among my favourite poems there’s this one: “Waiting for the Barbarians,” by Konstantinos Kavafis. I imagine the urgency of our relationship to writing in terms very similar to those expressed in this poem. Here, the encounter is at the same time a threat and a promise; a blessing and a curse, a truth and a lie, a thing we need and a thing we could probably live without. Here are the first few lines:
“What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?
                The barbarians are due here today.
 Why isn’t anything happening in the senate?

Why do the senators sit there without legislating?
                 Because the barbarians are coming today.
                What laws can the senators make now?
                Once the barbarians are here, they’ll do the legislating.”

You’re getting the point, right? Senators, the assembled forum, the collective ‘us’ of the narrative voice? It’s the stronghold of our confidence in things known well. But there’s a threat approaching; a terrible threat. The Barbarian. Writing. The Barbarian. Writing. The Barbarian. Writing. Oh, no. The pressure builds up and we can stand no more. There's a crisis here. There's a moment of great impasse.
Let’s replace ‘barbarians’ with ‘writing.’ There’s no more legislation possible, because we’re now open to the force that will legislate everything. Let us learn how to write, and then everything will appear to us written. How not to fear this? How not to send the invitation?

From Shaun Tan, The Arrival. Source:
Kavafis’ poem balances the evidence of the arrival against the threat of never-coming. The city prepares itself. The city – which is us, the learning individuals – adorns itself. The king, the senators, the consuls, the praetors, the people – all of them ready to kneel before the force of the unbeatable barbarian, the stranger that comes, the technology that would teach us. Throughout the poem, there’s a long litany of things lost and regretted, a background voice constantly wailing, Hey, what’s going on? What’s happening to all these things we know? Why have they stopped working? Then in the end the charm breaks. The barbarians never come. To the perplexing reality of this missed arrival, which leaves everyone and everything suspended in mid-air, the poem answers:

“And now, what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?
They were, those people, a kind of solution.”

After Kavafis

I like to think about the adventure of writing coming to us in the terms of Kavafis’ poem. There’s a list of institutions which prepare themselves for the encounter with writing and which, in the meantime, prepare us for the same. There’s the family, of course: the first members of society, the closest to us, who already show us the proof of writing’s existence before we have had a chance of seeing writing at all. They are literate before us, in the sense of a chronological priority, but also in the sense of a demonstrative priority: their literacy stands before us, as proof, as promise, as threat, as model.
Then there’s the proof of our names, another prophecy. We come upon ourselves, so to speak, through the realization that we are recordable, that there is a name given to us so as to be easier for the others to point us out. Not to remember us – because remembering takes into account physical traits –, but to point us out. As named creatures, we are pointed out. Made of points as if of full stops. We are creatures whose relevance is given by their ability to become signs on a piece of paper.
Then, for those who attend religious rituals, there is the proof of sacred texts. All religions teach through scriptures: through things that have been written, whether by other humans or through the direct agency of divine emanations. They too indicate how writing will be coming to us, how we are going to experience it when we’ll be face-to-face with it. We learn, here and now, that the first thing we’ll ever write will be our own name.

Source: Goins, Writer
And then, of course, the schools – impossible to circumvent. What’s central to the concept of literacy is that through the techniques we learn in schools (of writing, of composing, of using rhetoric to persuade, and so on) we lay traps to catch this eternal visitor, writing. There’s always a trick to be mastered in order to capture the visitor. For instance, the trick of using drawing techniques for the reproduction of letters. Or the trick Dominic pointed out last week on this blog, of using boxes to assure that writing doesn’t go out of bounds; that it stays nicely caged, tamed, subjected, imprisoned. This, like all the forms mentioned above, is pre-scribed writing. Scribed, or scripted, before us (once again, as a chronological, as well as a demonstrative priority).

Writing is a kind of solution. But unlike the kingdom in Kavafis’ poem, we know exactly what writing is a solution of, since we have lived to see the consequences. We are ourselves the consequences of writing, the proof of its solution. We are the solution.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Packaged Writing part II, or 2.0

To continue on from where we left off last week, where I was harping on about boxes and writing, as with many things, it is only when the box presents an insufficiency that the operation of the apparatus is exposed. Only then can we see; only then can we have an epiphany.

A typical landing card
When encountering a form like the one above, these limitations are made apparent. What if one holds multiple occupations, for example? Or, as in my own personal case, one’s name is too long to fit in the spaces provided? It forces the writers’ occupation (their selves, their identities) to fit within fourteen equal squares. Imagine if you worked as an Independent Film-Maker. Or a Community Support Worker. Or a University Lecturer. What a headache to fill this form, what an injury to your sense of self! What this displays about the form is the rather self-evident fact that it is a highly codified practice. Yet this truth can be extended to the nature of writing itself.
Writing does not contain language; it informs language. But there is much of language that is not writing; the language of gesture, for instance, or of unworded utterance (e.g. sighs, grunts). Such things cannot be truly expressed in written language. They can only be described, through the use of yet more writing.
Writing, as a practice, has in its very nature a desire to formalise, to concretise. There is a vast array of what could be called programming or coding in place in writing in order for such a technology to function; the shape of the individual letters, the accepted spelling, the craze about dictionaries, grammar, punctuation, usage, etc., etc., etc. We learn them all as part of the recognition of writing. So it is with forms, with the entire educative process bent to ensure that we unconsciously absorb the programmatic codes of the form as a subset (or perhaps, given its formative role in writing, it may be more accurately described as a superset) of writing.

An example of a digital form
The operation of this sub-code is most evident in the rise of digital forms. There’s myriad coding at work beneath the surface in order for this entire operation to function. Indeed, an entirely obscured writing apparatus is at work. The digital form is also the most rigid instance of the form. It is so strictly coded that one quite literally cannot write outside the boxes provided, whereas evidently in the physical form, there is a case for leniency. (I’ll give it that!)
Human agency, pretty damaged in the handwritten form as well, is removed even further when, in some instances, such forms fill themselves out automatically. Here one is left with absolutely no choice but to perform the Form as prescribed. Our defeat is dazzling. When we finally submit the form to the authority in charge, we can say we have reached our utter submission to the Form, to writing-as-prescription.
Form-filling is a performative action; one performs it. In doing so, one learns the form as a practice. In doing so, again, one learns practices of writing. One performs this function in accordance with the strictness or laxity that the form itself demands. Given that most formal occasions of form-writing come in the process of a request, the onus is on the writer to perform well. Forms have their own vocabularies, specific to them alone. And they’re not solely apparent in printed instances; they thrive online just as well, even (perhaps counter-intuitively) informally.
Facebook, for instance, is simply a friendship form, where one performs friendship within carefully defined parameters (e.g. the comment box), using the tools accepted by the format (notable among the exceptions from alphanumeric writing: emoticons, video-clips, informal writing that imitates speech, etc.). Regarded in this way, Facebook proves to be able to format and package affective communications, as well as digital friendship. It teaches the performance of digital emotions, which we express and experience (i.e. perform) in what else but boxes. Facebook – it’s friendship, in a box!
Facebook: Packaging friendship, a friend, in a box.

Of boxes and boxing

By now you cannot have failed to notice the presentation of this piece, superimposed atop an upside-down ACC (Accident Compensation Corporation) form. The connection is really only a visual attempt to illustrate this performative aspect of informed writing demanded by the form. It’s an experiment I thought I might play with, out of fun but also out of care. Because I care about my writing and its fate on the public stage. And I dare, when I’m given a box, to return my own boxing (in an almost-pugilistic style). I did all this by performing against the form. The difficulties of legibility cannot be solely ascribed to the palimpsest effect of the multiple layers of writing. The refusal to adhere to the strict spaces of the form, to write over and outside the box heightens the difficulty. Nevertheless, it still adheres to some formatting; as a written artifact, it cannot escape packaging.
Evidently I am getting at the arbitrary nature of writing here. Clearly I have observed the rules that surround writing; correct spelling, sentences, paragraphs, punctuation, grammar and so on, not to mention margins, titles, subheadings and captions. Of course this is justified in the name and cause of sense-making, but that doesn't make these rules or regulations around writing any less arbitrary. And what are rules if not boxes of a sort? Arbitrary invisible lines of inclusion and exclusion, essentially just codified conventions. Writing is simply language (some parts of it anyway) boxed up and packaged and sent out to all us in this form that seems so complete and indisputable.
That writing comes to us in a packaged form should really come as no surprise. When we consider that much of the early standardization of the English language came from arbitrary choices made by the clerks in the Chancery office of late medieval England, it is fair to surmise that bureaucratic writing practices have played a large hand in the formation of the written language. The form, the symbolic mascot of bureaucratic work, has underpinned and informed writing ever since, packaging it into boxes for us to fill in.