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robertogreco : alphabet   10

Magic and the Machine — Emergence Magazine
"Indeed, it is only when a traditionally oral culture becomes literate that the land seems to fall silent. Only as our senses transferred their animating magic to the written word did the other animals fall dumb, the trees and rocks become mute. For, to learn this new magic, we had to break the spontaneous participation of our eyes and ears in the enfolding terrain in order to recouple those senses with the flat surface of the page. I remember well, in first grade, the intensity with which I had to train my listening ears and my visual focus upon the letters in order to make each letter trigger a specific sound made by my mouth, such that now whenever I see the letter K, I instantly hear “kah” in my mind’s ear, and whenever I see an M, I hear “mmm.” If my ancestors once engaged in animistic participation with bent twigs, animal tracks, cliff-faces, and cloud shapes, I learned an analogous participation with the letter shapes upon the page. But notice: while a thundercloud or a raven might utter strange sounds and communicate strange sensations, the written letters always speak with a human tongue.

Hence, far from enacting a clear break with animism, alphabetic literacy can be recognized as a particularly potent form of animism, one which shifts the locus of magic—or meaning—away from our interactions with the more-than-human surroundings to the relation between ourselves and our own signs. Only as alphabetic literacy comes into a previously oral culture (often through Christian missionaries teaching how to read the Good Book) does that culture get the curious idea that language is an exclusively human property. The living land is no longer felt to hold and utter forth its own manifold meanings; the surrounding earth soon comes to be viewed as a mostly passive background upon which human history unfolds."

"For animism—the instinctive experience of reciprocity or exchange between the perceiver and the perceived—lies at the heart of all human perception. While such participatory experience may be displaced by our engagement with particular tools and technologies, it can never entirely be dispelled. Rather, different technologies tend to capture and channel our instinctive, animistic proclivities in particular ways."

"Despite the flimsy gesture toward a kind of magical reality, the fact is that we’re still speaking only to ourselves, to things that we have programmed to talk back to us. And so, after the initial novelty, which maybe lasts about twenty minutes, there’s nothing here that can surprise us, or yield a sense that we’re in communication with beings strangely different from ourselves."

"And maybe this attempt to recreate that primal experience of intimacy with the surrounding world will actually succeed. Certainly it’s giving rise to all sorts of fascinating gizmos and whimsical inventions. But it’s also bound to disappoint. The difficult magic of animistic perception, the utter weirdness and dark wonder that lives in any deeply place-based relation to the earth, is the felt sense of being in contact with wakeful forms of sentience that are richly different from one’s own—the experience of interaction with intelligences that are radically other from one’s own human style of intelligence. Yet when interacting with the smart objects that inhabit the always-online world of the internet of things, well, there’s no real otherness there. Of course, there’s the quasi-otherness of the program designers, and of the other people living their own wired lives; although just how other anybody will be when we’re all deploying various forms of the same software (and so all thinking by means of the same preprogrammed algorithms) is an open question. My point, however, is that there’s no radical otherness involved: it’s all humanly programmed, and it’s inhabited by us humans and our own humanly-built artifacts; it’s all basically a big extension of the human nervous system. As we enter more deeply into the world of ubiquitous computing, we increasingly seal ourselves into an exclusively human zone of interaction. We enter into a bizarre kind of intraspecies incest."

"Yet it’s the alterity or otherness of things—the weirdly different awareness of a humpback whale sounding its eerie glissandos through the depths, or an orb-weaver spider spinning the cosmos out of her abdomen; or the complex intelligence of an old-growth forest, dank with mushrooms and bracket fungi, humming with insects and haunted by owls—it’s the wild, more-than-human otherness of these powers that makes any attentive relation with such beings a genuine form of magic, a trancelike negotiation between outrageously divergent worlds.

Without such radical otherness, there’s no magic. Wandering around inside a huge extension of our own nervous system is not likely to bring a renewal of creaturely wonder, or a recovery of ancestral capacities. It may keep us fascinated for a time but also vaguely unsatisfied and so always thirsty for the next invention, the next gadget that might finally satisfy our craving, might assuage our vague sense that something momentous is missing. Except it won’t."

"Western navigators, long reliant on a large array of instruments, remain astonished by the ability of traditional seafaring peoples to find their way across the broad ocean by sensing subtle changes in the ocean currents, by tasting the wind and reading the weather, by conversing with the patterns in the night sky. Similarly, many bookish persons find themselves flummoxed by the ease with which citizens of traditionally oral, place-based cultures seem always to know where they are—their capacity to find their way even through dense forests without obvious landmarks—an innate orienting ability that arises when on intimate terms with the ground, with the plants, with the cycles of sun, moon, and stars. GPS seems to replicate this innate and fairly magical capacity, but instead of this knowledge arising from our bodily interchange with the earthly cosmos, here the knowledge arrives as a disembodied calculation by a complex of orbiting and ground-based computers."

"There is nothing “extra-sensory” about this kind of earthly clairvoyance. Rather, sensory perception functions here as a kind of glue, binding one’s individual nervous system into the larger ecosystem. When our animal senses are all awake, our skin rippling with sensations as we palpate the surroundings with ears and eyes and flaring nostrils, it sometimes happens that our body becomes part of the larger Body of the land—that our sensate flesh is taken up within the wider Flesh of the breathing Earth—and so we begin to glimpse events unfolding at other locations within the broad Body of the land. In hunting and gathering communities, individuals are apprenticed to the intricate life of the local earth from an early age, and in the absence of firearms, hunters often depend upon this richly sensorial, synaesthetic clairvoyance for regular success in the hunt. The smartphone replicates something of this old, ancestral experience of earthly acumen that has long been central to our species: the sense of being situated over Here, while knowing what’s going on over There."

"And so we remain transfixed by these tools, searching in and through our digital engagements for an encounter they seem to promise yet never really provide: the consummate encounter with otherness, with radical alterity, with styles of sensibility and intelligence that thoroughly exceed the limits of our own sentience. Yet there’s the paradox: for the more we engage these remarkable tools, the less available we are for any actual contact outside the purely human estate. In truth, the more we participate with these astonishing technologies, the more we seal ourselves into an exclusively human cocoon, and the more our animal senses—themselves co-evolved with the winds, the waters, and the many-voiced terrain—are blunted, rendering us ever more blind, ever more deaf, ever more impervious to the more-than-human Earth.

Which brings us, finally, back to our initial question: What is the primary relation, if there is any actual relation, between the two contrasting collective moods currently circulating through contemporary society—between the upbeat technological optimism coursing through many social circles and the mood of ecological despondency and grief that so many other persons seem to be feeling? As a writer who uses digital technology, I can affirm that these tools are enabling many useful, astounding, and even magical possibilities. But all this virtual magic is taking a steep toll. For many long years this techno-wizardry has been blunting our creaturely senses, interrupting the instinctive rapport between our senses and the earthly sensuous. It’s been short-circuiting the spontaneous reciprocity between our animal body and the animate terrain, disrupting the very attunement that keeps us apprised of what’s going on in our locale—the simple, somatic affinity that entangles our body with the bodies of other creatures, binding our sentience with that of the local earth. Today, caught up in our fascination with countless screen-fitted gadgets, we’re far more aloof from the life of the land around us, and hence much less likely to notice the steady plundering of these woodlands and wetlands, the choking of the winds and the waters by the noxious by-products of the many industries we now rely on. As these insults to the elemental earth pile up—as the waters are rendered lifeless by more chemical runoff, by more oil spills, by giant patches of plastic rotating in huge gyres; as more glaciers melt and more forests succumb to the stresses of a destabilized climate—the sensorial world of our carnal experience is increasingly filled with horrific wounds, wounds that we feel in our flesh whenever we dare to taste the world with our creaturely senses. It’s too damned painful. Hence … [more]
animism  davidabram  technology  language  alphabet  writing  oraltradition  secondaryorality  smarthphones  gps  multispecies  morethanhuman  canon  literacy  listening  multisensory  senses  noticing  nature  intuition  alterity  otherness  object  animals  wildlife  plants  rocks  life  living  instinct  internet  web  online  maps  mapping  orientation  cities  sound  smell  texture  touch  humans  smartdevices  smarthomes  internetofthings  perception  virtuality  physical 
june 2019 by robertogreco
Frere-Jones Type
"Letters are scattered all over the living room floor. Not designs of my own, but toys for our son. Letters for sticking on refrigerator doors, fitting into puzzles, stamping in finger-paint, or floating in a bathtub. There’s even a bag of gummy letters in the kitchen.

They’re all made by different hands, and in varying materials. As far as I can tell, they don’t aspire to any explicit style, but only to present the alphabet with minimum distraction. But there’s more noise and confusion here than their makers may realize.

Q, I think

Most of these letters have rounded corners and terminals, which seems to be the prevalent style for toddlers. I think I understand the appeal: it’s fun and bouncy like a balloon, and you probably can’t poke yourself in the eye with it. Some letter sets got their intersections rounded as well, leaving them with a web-footed appearance.

Pretty sure this is a W

Unfortunately, the rounding-off and curving-in can weaken critical features of letterforms. So it’s an especially unfortunate thing to put in front of a child trying to learn the alphabet and gain confidence in knowing its shapes. It’s like making someone wear earplugs while they try to learn an instrument.

Undecided about being a B

We learn letterforms by their tendencies, like the importance of asymmetry in the capital ‘B’. As that left-to-right contrast is turned down for the sake of style (or ease of manufacture) the letter becomes less and less of a ‘B’ and more of an abstract lump.

K, more or less

The shape of a ‘K’ is all about diagonals and sharp intersections. Here, the manufacturer dispensed with the tight corners because the router apparently couldn’t handle it, and effectively skipped a letter of the alphabet.

I definitely know what that one is

As a type designer, I could hem and haw about the design of this ‘K’. The top leg looks a bit too light. The lower leg seems to taper towards its end rather than its join. Degrees of curvature at the terminals seem inconsistent. As a father, I’m just grateful that this actually looks (and acts) like a letter of the alphabet rather than a Rorschach test."
children  typography  alphabet  letters  2014  tobiasfrere-jones 
january 2015 by robertogreco
The graffiti in Reykjavík is subtly different from elsewhere. – Reykjavik, Iceland — A Hi Moment
"Part of the difference is due to the difference in alphabet — there are characters used in the Icelandic language that slip off the Americanized tongue at first, but quickly become familiar the more you use them.

Đ or đ, for example, is a very similar sound to the American ‘th.’ Therefore, an excellent viking rapper catchphrase would be ‘Đug Lyfe.’

There are numerous accented words, which, like in many cultures, indicate where the emphasis should be placed on the word. My good friend Jóna’s name, for instance, is pronounced ‘YO-nuh,’ with the emphasis on the ‘o.’

In a fascinating twist (well, fascinating to me, because I’m accustomed to the Argentine Spanish ‘ll’ sound), Iceland’s ‘ll’ sound is a strange bit of tongue acrobatics, where you will sometimes pronounce it like a ‘tl’ (as in the street name ‘Blómvallagata,’ pronounced ‘BLOME-vat-la-gat-tuh’), and sometimes as a puff of air shot out the side of the mouth (like in the word ‘Gull,’ which is a popular beer brand here, and is pronounced something like ‘Gul-th,’ but with the ‘th’ shot out the side of the mouth, over a half-stiffened tongue).

This is just a short intro to the language, of course, and it is rich with interesting pronunciations and even more interesting words that we don’t have in English. But understanding these characters helps understand the street art here; their shapes are different, and often work vertically far better than the standard American English language. As such, you end up with something that works in three-dimensions, rather than just two, and the calligraphy (usually my least favorite genre of street art) ends up being far more rich with content and meaning."
iceland  2013  streetart  colinwright  language  graffiti  lettering  alphabet  reykjavík 
april 2014 by robertogreco
Frank Chimero’s Blog - Sorting a Mass
"Right now, chronological ordering is the default way to arrange content online, & I wonder how that blanket presumption affects curation on the web. Does it make sense, because people check in frequently, or is it odd, like sorting a stack of photographs alphabetically by who is in them? There are indeed instances where sorting by time is the correct path, but it will be exciting over the next few months and years to see what happens to the web as we recognize the instances where the newest thing is not necessarily the most important thing. (And, as always, the additional problem on top of this: can this sorting process be automated?)

But can you curate on the web? Most curation comes to a point through narrative, and is narrative possible on the web? Stories require a certain amount of linearity, and we all know how the web disrupts that. Maybe it is the same problem that video games have, where interactivity subverts storytelling…"

[This article is now here: ]
web  curation  collecting  curating  sorting  frankchimero  storytelling  scrolling  2011  collections  bookmarks  bookmarking  flickr  interactivity  location  alphabet  hierarchy  categorization  time  chronology  chronoogical  pagination 
july 2011 by robertogreco
Endangered Alphabets
"Moreover, at least a third of the world’s remaining alphabets are endangered–-no longer taught in schools, no longer used for commerce or government, understood only by a few elders, restricted to a few monasteries or used only in ceremonial documents, magic spells, or secret love letters.

The Endangered Alphabets Project, which consists of an exhibition of fourteen carvings and a book, is the first-ever attempt to bring attention to this issue.

Every one of the Endangered Alphabets (Inuktitut, Baybayin, Manchu, Bugis, Bassa Vah, Cherokee, Samaritan, Mandaic, Syriac, Khmer, Pahauh Hmong, Balinese, Tifinagh and Nom), carved and painted into a slab of Vermont curly maple, challenges our assumptions about language, about beauty, about the fascinating interplay between function and grace that takes place when we invent symbols for the sounds we speak, and when we put a word on a page—or a piece of bamboo, or a palm leaf."
linguistics  language  art  books  research  alphabet  languages  endangeredalphabets  extinction  universaldeclarationofhumanrights  humanrights  culture  preservation 
april 2011 by robertogreco
The Disappearing Alphabet - Magazine - The Atlantic
"If the alphabet began to disappear,Some words would soon look raggedy and queer(Like QUIRREL, HIMPANZEE, AND CHOOCHOO-TRAI),While others would entirely fade away.And since it is by words that we construeThe world, the world would start to vanish too . . ."<br />
[I remember reading this to my fifth grade class when it first ran in The Atlantic in 1997.]
poetry  classideas  theatlantic  poems  alphabet  richardwilbur 
april 2011 by robertogreco
New Spanish spelling guide to modernize language when new rules adopted in Mexico -
"Spanish speakers will have to get used to a host of new spelling rules, including writing Irak instead of Iraq & Catar instead of Qatar, under proposals to modernize the language expected to be adopted this month…

The Spanish Royal Language Academy said Friday the new orthographic guide for world's second-most spoken tongue is to be ratified by the language's 22 international academies when they meet Nov. 28 in Guadalajara, Mexico.

"It's the fruit of detailed & very reasoned research," said Salvador Gutierrez, a Spanish academic who helped coordinate the work. "The aim is to have coherent spelling & avoid linguistic dispersion."

The proposals include referring to the letter "y'' as "ye" instead of the Greek "i'' as it's been known for as long as anyone can recall.

The guardians of the language also decided that speakers in Latin America should no longer refer to "b''s & "v''s as long & short "b''s, respectively, but instead call them "'beys" & "ubeys" as Spaniards do."
language  spanish  español  spelling  conventions  writing  alphabet  2010  realacademiaespañola 
november 2010 by robertogreco
Ask H&FJ | Hoefler & Frere-Jones - The World’s Most Perfect Script
"Hangul is comprised of 51 jamo, or phomenic units, whose shapes are highly organized. Simple consonants are linear (ㄱ, ㄴ, ㄷ, ㄹ, ㅁ, ㅂ, ㅅ, ㅇ, ㅈ, ㅊ, ㅋ, ㅌ, ㅍ, ㅎ), vowels are horizontal or vertical lines (ㅏ, ㅓ, ㅗ, ㅜ, ㅡ, ㅣ), glottalized letters are doubled (ㄲ, ㄸ, ㅃ, ㅆ, ㅉ), and so on. But more interestingly, Hangul’s characters are featural: their shapes are related to the sounds they symbolize, each representing a different position of the mouth and tongue. Pay attention to the curvature of your lower lip when you form the sounds buh and puh, and you’ll begin to see the logic of Hangul’s B (ㅂ) and P (ㅍ). Notice how your tongue interacts with the roof of your mouth when you say sss and juh, and you’ll understand the design of its S (ㅅ) and J (ㅈ). Hangul’s ability to represent an especially wide range of sounds makes it easy to render loan words from other languages, a challenge in many Asian scripts (but an entertaining hazard to reckless Westerners.)"
korean  alphabet  language  design  history  culture  korea  linguistics  typography  writing  hangul  h&fj 
october 2008 by robertogreco

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