30 Days, 30 Posts: NaBloPoMo is here!

NanNoWriMo has taken over as my top writing task for the month of November, so I’m not likely to be posting a lot this month. Having said that, however, I’m interested to read about NaBloPoMo …

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There’s a lot of buzz each November around NaNoWriMo — you may notice some of your favorite blogs dedicating themselves to churning out 50,000 words this month.

If 50,000 words seem like 49,000 too many or you’re more interested in blogging than writing a book, NaBloPoMo — National Blog Posting Month — might be your speed: a challenge to post once every day for the entire month of November. No theme, no word count, no rules; just you, your blog, and 30 new posts.


NaBloPoMo started in 2006 in response to NaNoWriMo; not every blogger has the time or inclination to write a book, but the idea of a challenge that forces participants to stretch themselves, grow as bloggers, and be part of a supportive community is undeniably appealing. As founder Eden Kennedy, the power blogger behind fussy.org, put it:

If there’s one thing creative people…

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Reading and writing – a (sort of) foreword

… what affords reading affords reading by citations (necessarily truncated clippings, repetitions, suctions, sections, suspensions, selections, stitchings, scarrings, grafts, pastiches, organs without their own proper body covered with cuts, traversed by lice). (Derrida, in glas)

Over the past several days, I’ve been attempting to compose something cogent on the topic of “Speaking and writing” — without much success. Each time I took out a fresh sheet of (recycled) paper, I quickly found it filling up with fragmentary sentences choked with multiple word/vocab choices, crossings out, arrows, brackets, balloons …

Today is different: I’ve acknowledged that the topic is a tangled web. So I’m starting here, with this diffident foreword to what might (or might not) turn out to be some sort of series.

What do you mean? — “I’m not a person”

I’m not a person, and if you like me as a person you have missed me. You have missed the impersonal that is present here. I am just an opening. Come close to me and I will help you to become impersonal too. (Osho (Rajneesh), from The Wisdom of the Sands Vol II, p338)

The Buddha taught some people the teachings of duality that help them avoid sin and acquire spiritual merit. To others he taught non-duality, that some find profoundly frightening. (Nagarjuna)

Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself. (George Bernard Shaw)

The self is the isolated ego clinging to its small reality; the Self is the unbounded spirit that does not cling at all. (Deepak Chopra)

You cannot transcend what you do not know. To go beyond yourself, you must know yourself. (Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj)

A person is what his deep desire is. It is our deepest desire in this life that shapes the life to come. So let us direct our deepest desires to realize the Self. (Chandogya Upanishad)

The Self is beyond knowledge and ignorance. (Ramana Maharshi)

There is no such thing as a person. There is only the universal recycling as a person. You are the universe. (Deepak Chopra)

Be like melting snow — wash yourself of yourself. (Mawlana Jalal-al-Din Rumi)

At the heart of the labyrinth

… let’s imagine a labyrinth without a central quid (neither monster nor treasure), so one that’s a-centric, which basically means a labyrinth without a final signified to discover … like a kind of mortal game, possibly with nothing at the center; here, again, the path would be equivalent to the goal — but only if you manage to get out … (Biblioklept, in Roland Barthes on the Labyrinth Metaphor).

The quid at the heart of the labyrinth — we have discovered — is emptiness. There is neither monster nor treasure. No, wait! that’s not true: both monster and treasure are to be found here. For we are the labyrinth and the quid … not only the possibility of slaying the monster but also the means of returning alive, and bringing the treasure out, too.

Lao Tzu’s well-known explanation is pertinent here: “Clay is moulded to form a cup, but it is on its non-being [its emptiness] that the utility of the cup depends.  Doors and windows are cut out to make a room, but it is on its non-being [its emptiness] that the utility of the room depends.” 

Similarly, the old Zen story in which the master keeps pouring tea into his guest’s cup … even after it is full and overflowing.

Fullness is a condition of no possibility; emptiness is open to every possibility.

It is worth noting that “[labyrinths] have historically been used both in group ritual and for private meditation” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Labyrinth).

PS: How could I have forgotten to mention the treasure?

Hidden systems of cultural belief

No text is an isolated island. (Professor Byron Hawk, GMU, Virginia)

Roland Barthes’s writings do not fit well within the category of ‘literary criticism’ in any conventional sense; nor, indeed, does he limit himself to the critique of that which is conventionally called ‘literature’; in Barthes’s view, “work of every form and worth qualifies for citizenship in the great democracy of ‘texts’”  (Sontag, in Barthes 1982: xi). For Barthes, there is nothing that cannot be treated as ‘text’: everything is literature — a ‘text’ open to that challenge whose function and intention is to call into question the very nature of things. But this assertion represents but one side of a binary: the other side of the argument embodies the notion that “all objects are created, and subjects constituted, by … language” (Lavers, 1982: p13).

Dr Jack Solomon — in the Introduction to The Signs of Our Time — states that his book is “about codes and the way that ordinary words, objects, and activities can be signs that point to hidden systems of cultural belief”  (Solomon, 1988: p2). He explains that “The ideological nature of signs is particularly marked in the political arena, where a battle over words may have much more than mere semantic significance” (Solomon, 1988: p3).

Solomon sets out two principles which may guide us as we attempt to decipher the meaning of any ‘text’: Solomon’s “first principle [of semiotics] tells us to distrust what is called ‘common sense’ …| According to the second principle … a cultural interest lurks behind our most fundamental beliefs” (Solomon, 1988: pp9-10).

Annette Lavers (1982: p13), regarding the recognition of the observer’s involvement in what he or she observes as “probably the main lesson of twentieth century thought,” argues that “when extended from perception to language, [this idea] leads to the conclusion that all objects are created, and subjects constituted, by this same language.” In other words: “We make ourselves, and what we make is perceived as reality” (McLuhan & Powers, 1992: p10). (Sir Francis Bacon somewhere states that “Men prefer to believe what they prefer to be true.”)

Glancing quickly today through some of the pro-Christian/anti-postmodern materials I found on the web, it was soon clear to me that the reading and interpreting of biblical texts is much more than “a battle of words”; the issues are ideological and political, moral and ethical … and might ultimately be about power.

In his online Introduction to Semiotics 101, Byron Hawk aptly explains: “Interpreting culture is not simply a description of culture, nor is it mere opinion. The cultural meaning in a particular sign comes from its historical context. By itself, an ad is just selling a product, and a movie is just entertainment (denotation). But examined in the context of the other cultural signs that provide a backdrop for the ads’ or movies’ presentation, it becomes clearer that they carry additional meaning (connotation).”

Niall Lucy encapsulates an invaluable insight: “Imposing an order on the world, myths give shape to it — and this shape is what comes to be accepted as ‘natural’, ‘given’ and ‘true’” (Lucy, 2001: p17).

Professor Byron Hawk taught English 101-006 (Composition) in the Spring of 2006 at George Mason University (often referred to as GMU or Mason) — a public university based in Fairfax County, Virginia, United States, south of and adjacent to the city of Fairfax. Read more about GMU here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Mason_University

Here is a link to the Semiotics 101 online notes: http://classweb.gmu.edu/bhawk/101/semiotics/

Niall Lucy is an Australian writer and scholar best known for his work in deconstruction. Wikipedia has an incomplete piece on him here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Niall_Lucy

Barthes, R. 1982. A Barthes Reader : Edited and with an Introduction by Susan Sontag. London: Jonathan Cape Ltd.

Lavers, A. 1982. Roland Barthes : Structuralism and After. London: Methuen & Co.

Lucy, N. 2001. Beyond semiotics : text, culture and technology.  London: Continuum International Publishing Group

McLuhan, M & Bruce R Powers. 1992 (“first published in 1989 by Oxford University Press”). The Global Village : Transformations in World Life and Media in the 21st Century. New York: Oxford University Press.

Solomon, J. 1988. The Signs of Our Time : Semiotics: The Hidden Messages of Environments, Objects, and Cultural Images. Los Angeles: Jeremy P Tarcher, Inc.

“And your point is …?”

Meaning is only ever produced by the frictions between things. Like every medium, sound derives its meaning from context, from intertextuality, from the play of difference in its conceptual and material strata” (Seth Kim-Cohen)

[W]hat I enjoy in a narrative is not directly its content or even its structure, but rather the abrasions I impose upon the fine surface: I read on, I skip, I look up, I dip in again. (Roland Barthes, in The Pleasure of the Text)

Uncertain about where to go next in this mini-series, and beginning to sense that it was time to get to the point, I sat down with a pen and paper, intending, first, to clear my mind, then just write. But I allowed myself to be hijacked — by that piece of text by Seth Kim-Cohen cited above (which I had scribbled down on a previous occasion).

Christoph Cox’s ArtForum letter presents a critique of Seth Kim-Cohen’s critique of a work of ‘sound art’ by Doug Aitken. In his response to Cox’s letter, Kim-Cohen quotes Cox: “[N]ature (ourselves, our languages, and our valuations included) is dynamically differential.” Kim-Cohen then points out: 

just as meaning is a product of difference, difference is a product of meaning. For that reason, it is equally difficult to see how language and our valuations might be included on the side of nature rather than culture. As Deleuze and Grattan imply in A Thousand Plateaus (1980), the wasp and the orchid don’t recognize themselves as wasp and orchid.

Given our tendencies and talents for extracting meaning from constructs of matter, energy, and information, we human beings must build our anti-essentialist models of ontology, epistemology, ethics and aesthetics on the side of meaning, world, and culture [rather than that of earth, nature, and being].

 Too good not to share.

Seth Kim-Cohen, cited by Christoph Cox of Amherest, Massachusetts, in a letter published on page 16 of the January 2010 edition of ArtForum.