Friday, May 18, 2007

A Way With Words

If you wonder about our interest in ideograms, it arose from one of Bob’s courses “The Ideogrammic Method”. He made a connection between the vividness of Pound’s poetry, and the Imagist movement, and their interest in using concrete, non-abstract language. The Fenollosa text contributed to this.

Many people think of Egyptian hieroglyphs or Chinese characters as ideograms, but actually some represent sounds, and syllables, and not all ‘pictures’ actually represent the concrete object drawn.

We spent some time discussing the difference between pictograms, hieroglyphs, ideograms, etc

public domain infographics
A Pictogram – literally a sketch/thumbnail of an object – therefore hard to use to just illustrate an action (if I draw a running stickman, do I mean man, or running?) Notice that either/or, because we distinguish verb and noun.
Phonograms are indicators of pronunciation – I think Chinese has a few of these, but the most developed form is the phonetic alphabet, which indicate sounds (although not always in a logical way – look at English!)

Hieroglyphs: defined as 'figure of an object standing for a word, syllable or sound, as used in ancient Egyptian and other writing..." I guess, in those terms, hieroglyphics appear to be pictograms (have a look at stele 666 and pick out the birds, etc) but of course a picture of an owl could just be the bird, or could be an ideogram for “wisdom”
Ideograms seem like symbols for an idea or concept. An everyday one we use is the set of numerals we got from the Arabic languages 1,2,3,4,5. [Note that we can all use these, and agree on them, but when spoken English speakers pronounce 1 as “one”, my French friend says “Un” and a German friend says “ein”.] I assume that icons like the sign for “Men” and “Women” also count.
Graffiti and Calligraphy combine the phonetic alphabet with variations in ‘fonts’ to add layers of expressiveness. Street signs often only have an icon, but sometimes they are supplemented with words. It’s a design issue. Next time you go through an international airport, see how much you understand without using a dictionary or phrase book.

An ideogram or ideograph (from Greek iδέα idea "idea" + γράφω grapho "to write") is a graphic symbol that represents an idea.

In relation to Pound, the Imagists included this in a manifesto:

1. To use the language of common speech, but to employ the exact
word, not the nearly-exact, nor the merely decorative word.

2. We believe that the individuality of a poet may often be better expressed in free verse than in conventional forms. In poetry, a new cadence means a new idea.

3. Absolute freedom in the choice of subject.

4. To present an image. We are not a school of painters, but we
believe that poetry should render particulars exactly and not deal in
vague generalities, however magnificent and sonorous. It is for this
reason that we oppose the cosmic poet, who seems to us to shirk the real difficulties of his art.

5. To produce a poetry that is hard and clear, never blurred nor

6. Finally, most of us believe that concentration is of the very
essence of poetry.

RAW discussed some similarities between Pound's love of "precision, luminous detail, phalanx of particulars, image, vortex, and ideogram" and Korzybski’s extensional view of the world – where we deal with concrete particulars, not generalizations.

RAW: In extension we do not define humans as
mammals, mammals as vertebrates,
vertebrates as life forms etc
as caricatured by Fenollosa.

In extension we define humans as Odysseus,
Helen of Troy, El Cid, Lorenzo de Medici,
Eleanor of Aquitaine, Tom Jefferson,
Cunizza daRomano, John Adams, Kungfutse,
Tai Tsong, Andy Jackson, Yong Ching,
JP Morgan, etc ...

Ideogrammic Method involves

concrete particulars
observer - observed relationships
presenting various facets
luminous fragments
A typical topic for the week, from Bob: Pound & Fenollosa consider ideogram the heart of poetry. Korzybski thought extensionality the essence of science. Think about this and cuss and discuss in the forums.
On the course, we hammered out our own understandings about all this, through discussion.

Ezra Pound's book ABC of Reading also proved interesting:

...if you ask him what red is, he says it is a 'colour'.
If you ask him what a colour is, he tells you it is a vibration or a refraction of light, or a division of the spectrum.
And if you ask him what vibration is, he tells you it is a mode of energy, or something of that sort until... you get in beyond your depth, and beyond his depth.

In the more traditional western view, red is a color is part of the spectrum of light is wavelengths is a form of energy, etc. The ideogram of red is rust, flamingo, cherry, rose.
Or, as Cosmic Ray put it...until I read Fenollosa's essay, I would have defined (categorized) rust, cherry, flamingo, and rose as "things that are red." I would never have thought to define red as "what rose, cherry, rust, and flamingo have in common." And there is how ideograms/extension seems quite opposite to the (or at least, my) traditional way of thinking: whether the term in question is defined by being placed in larger categories, or it is defined by what it categorizes. I would think that someone who once could see but is now blind, upon being told something is red, would remember things he once saw that were red, and apply that to the description of the object. He might even further define the redness of that object by asking "red like a cherry or red like a flamingo?"
The neuro-linguistic aspect of Bob's work has roots in this perception of Korzybski's:
All words transmitted as sonic or visual signals -- sound waves or light waves -- rapidly become photons, electrons, neurotransmitters, hormones, colloidal reactions, reflex arcs, conditioned or imprinted "frames." physiological responses etc. as they impact upon the total synergetic organism.
You could sum the whole complex of ideas this way:
The Vico-Fenollosa-Pound-Korzybski-Whorf-Bandler Hypothesis holds that language influences thought-feeling-perception and the organism-as-a-whole
"A change in language can transform our apprehension of the cosmos." --Benjamin Lee Whorf
And, in our monoculture of English online (although MLA has several members with other first languages) I'll finish with this from Pound in The ABC of Reading:
"The sum of human wisdom is not contained in any one language, and no single language is CAPABLE of expressing all forms and degrees of human comprehension."
"Away with words!" language is a virus from outer space...


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