According to Vilem Flusser, writing in the sense of placing letters or other marks one after another has little or no future (Flusser, 3). On the contrary, American conceptualists state that textual universe of the web is a victory of the verbal, liberating it, as earlier photography did for painting, from the task of representation and thus allowing it to obtain the artistic function (Goldsmith, 14). Indeed, in the world of digital communication, writing potentially acquires visual, audial, plastic, kinetic and computational features blurring the border between traditional writing and art practices. The work of many artists illustrates a trasition from concrete poetry to digital animation: John Maeda, Ottar Omstad, Jorg Piringer, Caroline Bergvall, Alexander Gornon, and many others. However, the reverse is also possible: transition from digital to postdigital – painted ASCII art (Ivan Khimin). So the letters are not only not dead, but the opportunities they acquire in the digital realm tie back to the central aspects of art history.
This paper will focus on digital letterisms, the asemic use of unicode characters in art and experimental literature. It includes visual, corporal, sonic, and spatial incarnations of letters and punctuation signs. Net art’s legendary virtual character Netochka Nezvanova was known for calling out letters from different languages or arranged purely phonographically and disregarding conventional spelling rules. Yet another functionality and expression is to be discussed when we are talking about letters in code poetry, sometimes capable of both being read and run.
“ABC”, “Alpha and Omega” – have since the invention of alphabet been designating the literal mechanics of Liber Mundi, the book of the world. More so with the progress of Internet, as linguistic signs communicate vital messages and direct our movements, we live in the universe of letters. And the fact that alphabetical order is one of the key organization systems is another proof of the literarity of our casual life. Letters are traditionally regarded in linguistic studies as Cartesian symbols, though arbitrary ones. However, Kabbalah allows for non-linear connection between the letter and its connotation: out of the forty-two letters of the alphabet the world was engraved and established, and if interpreted correctly, as a result of one of many possible permutations, universe can reveal its secret. Hundreds of years of visual expression and decorative art are embraced in mere ornamentality of Eastern calligraphy.
As Goodman states a picture in one system may be a description in another; the particular marks or inscriptions do not dictate the way in which they must be read (Goodman, 226). Devaluation of a letter as a semiotic sign due to the development of photography and videography should lead to the exploration of its formal visual, spatial and permutative potential as a universally recognizable shape.
Flusser, V. 2011. Does Writing Have a Future? Translated by Nancy Ann Roth. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Goldsmith, K. 2011. Creative and Uncreative Writing. New York: Columbia University Press.
Goodman, N. 1988. The Languages of Art: an Approach to the Theory of Symbol. Indianapolis: Hackett.
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