Reading on the Fringes: The Voynich Manuscript

Reading is understanding, symbol for symbol, page for page. This understanding can take many traditional forms—literal, intuitive, passive, applicable—but it is the non-traditional forms, the anomalies, that tempt us to explore the boundaries of written communication. 

For example:

  • Calligrams, where the arrangement of words forms a shape suggestive of the meaning (blending of visual and literary arts), characteristic of Apollinare’s Calligrammes, and less so of the avant-guard poetry of E. E. Cummings.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calligrammes

From Guillaume Apollinaire’s Calligrammes.

 

  • Automatic writing, where words are produced (supposedly) without conscious will (associated with surrealism and spiritualistic séances).
  • Asemic writing, where the result is without fixed message, context, words, though it may appear regular enough to suggest meaning (a “literary” equivalent of abstract art).
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Wheels_of_Transformation_.jpg

Asemic writing by Tatiana Roumelioti (CC BY-SA 4.0 ), from Wikimedia Commons

 

  • Paradoxes, absurdity, and pataphysics (science of imaginary solutions) where anomaly is the rule, or rather, to quote Canadian poet Christian Bök, the rule itself is the exception in a pataphysical science that rules out the rule. 

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Running After Tops

https://unsplash.com/photos/hGb5WqRrWIg

There goes a philosopher running after a children’s top. His glee! His ardour! Look how the top spins and wriggles away from him. Now he’s caught it—it’s stopped spinning—he’s inspecting it, grimacing, disgusted, and throwing it to the ground in disappointment.

Oh look another top!

Off he runs after the toy as enthusiastically as after the first. Now he’s caught it, he’s inspecting it…

This inveterate optimist is of Kafka’s imagining (from his short text The Top), and his behaviour is justified: For he believed that the understanding of any detail, that of a spinning top, for instance, was sufficient for the understanding of all things. This character is more allegorical placeholder than philosopher.

But I won’t interpret the allegory.

Over the past weeks I’ve had my say regarding Kafka’s work, so for the next few posts I’ll let the experts speak: Anne Carson, Albert Camus, Hannah Arendt, and Jorge Luis Borges.

A well written commentary intended for a general audience doesn’t require the reader to be familiar with the primary source beforehand. However, if upon enjoying the commentary you decide to go and make yourself familiar with said primary source—all the better! The four authors above reignited my interest in Kafka, and perhaps they will do the same for you. Continue reading