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neurath into narrative

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Ah this is just amazing…

I haven’t yet had time to digest all of this, as I only just found it now, but what’s immediately fantastic about this is that the narrativized isotypes tell just the right kind of story – perfect form and content cohesion. *

The work, “The Book of the Ground,” is by an artist named Xu Bing whose webpage you can see here. What’s even more fantastic, perhaps, than the thing itself is the computer program that he’s devised in order to write in this language.

Book from the Ground is a novel written in a “language of icons” that I have been collecting and organizing over the last few years. Regardless of cultural background, one should be able understand the text as long as one is thoroughly entangled in modern life. We have also created a “font library” computer program to accompany the book. The user can type English sentences (we are still limited in this way, but the next step will include Chinese and other major languages) and the computer will instantaneously translate them into this language of icons. It can function as a “dictionary,” and in the future it will have practical applications.

Where can I download a copy of that? Feels like it should have come with my eee (yes I bought one, sorry pollian! you know how I get with these things – have seen it from the fucking iPaq and Clie on, no?)

From what I can tell, when the Book was exhibited at Moma, a computer was set up to allow chatting in the pictographic language:

Mmmm. Utopian, modernist, universalist chat.

Anyway, I’m still collecting my thoughts (and, really, myself) after finding all of this. There’s a lot more to say. Perhaps the first thing to consider are the stakes and ramifications of narrativizing a picto-linguistic form that was designed from the start in resistence to narrativization. And Xu Bing says a few questionable things about the relationship between his project and the universal reign of capital (“Capital has become the new global language of power, but it must still undergo large-scale unification before it can more effectively control commerce” – oh, is that what we’re up to then?) And there might be, just might be, a relationship between these two problems. More thought required! I certainly hope it isn’t a case of “The Book of the Ground” is to Neurath and Arntz as the Saks Sack is to Rodchenko!

But for now, I’m very happy to see all of this. Mmmm work-fodder is almost as good as utopian chat forms! God knows we need both!

* I’m more nervous about labelling the form / content cohesion “perfect” at the end of this post than I was at the beginning. More soon! I promise promise!

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February 11, 2009 at 1:14 am

10 Responses

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  1. […] Ads with­out Prod­ucts, which promises com­men­tary to come. In the mean­time, bone up on John Wilkins.) No […]

    Novels without Words

    February 11, 2009 at 3:17 am

  2. Oh Goddamn, I want that language of icons and I want it now! That line ‘Regardless of cultural background, one should be able understand the text as long as one is thoroughly entangled in modern life’ is astonishing and so sort of right somehow. Get the code! Get the code! We can co-write a paper in it!

    infinite thought

    February 11, 2009 at 9:53 am

  3. This is exciting and amazing. I love the style; it reminds me of the icons / artwork created by Stanley Donwood and Radiohead for OK COMPUTER.


    February 11, 2009 at 3:24 pm

  4. Check out this project by Paul Chan. I think it like it better than the above: less mental ergonomics, more wit.


    February 11, 2009 at 7:10 pm

  5. Jasper — thanks for that link, definitely going to have to install (ha!) these fonts and play around with them. Chan actually has an upcoming show in a gallery I work at, interestingly enough. If any of you are in Chicago it’s worth checking out. I believe it has large portraits of all the Supreme Court justices..


    February 12, 2009 at 1:37 am

  6. Ooooh! You _must_ work on this! I want to hear all about it!


    February 13, 2009 at 11:09 pm

  7. Ah good links etc everyone! And yes of course IT, would be a great pleasure. I wonder what would we say…


    February 13, 2009 at 11:59 pm

  8. Thanks for that — I definitely want to see more now, especially to attend to the sort of mental notation I’m doing while reading it. I noticed at the start that I was doing a lot of “translating,’ turning the icon clusters into a spoken-word audio track in my head. There were a few moments when I didn’t, however, and I’d like to see how long that can be extended, and what the effect is like, as one becomes ‘fluent’ in the language of icons . . .


    February 14, 2009 at 8:18 pm

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