Start making it up
If it’s text, it’s words, put in order, in short and longer groupings. There’s always a structural mesh to the mishmash, if it’s text. In the beginning it’s not the word, but shape, symbol and letter that come together to kick off alphabets that jostle and bunch into discourse. Letters – clean or accented, with singular or diphthongal strengths – glue and glisten with soundings and consequences, strike postures in clause and sentence, build blocks of meaning and moment.
Little groups of letter pals look good, but lack significance until they morph and gather as words with meaning. Phonemes and morphemes are pheromonal, with slack bonds that give us all the words we can imagine: all those wordy phenomena from which to choose the few that reinforce prejudice, determine structures and serendipities. Too many undiscovered, discarded and adulterated words lie waiting for discovery and new purpose. The raw material of words is inexhaustible.
The initial letter
There I am, and я too, a single letter at the centre of the writing. U can be the reader. И, y and e put things together in pairs or strings, and other writers use single vowels and consonants – a, i, o, à, į, w, z, б, s, с – for basic meanings. Letters put together as acronyms and abbreviations offer to save time, but more frequently restrict common access, adopting new roles in the DNA of mystification. Some letters are at the heart of short messages, there to save space and foster ambiguity. Some letters are words, some stand in for words, and some don’t. OK?
Bits that appear in front of some words prefix expectations of meaning to come. Afterwards, a suffix will twist a word’s tail. Beginnings hark back to older languages and the ends come from settlers and conquerors: the edges of these words change the way we look at things. With prefixes and suffixes they extend explorations of unlikely contraindications that simultaneously dominate and dislocate metaphysical interpretations and ontological predeterminations. Prefixes and suffixes can add clarity or create confusion.
Words come to bits
Words of one syllable aren’t always the most simple, but they show what can be done with limited resources. Longer words, requiring an increased effort of articulation, may lead to misunderstandings, as once and future composite vocabularies splinter and divide into parallel neologisms. Stresses and rhythms of spoken language pass onto the page according to local usage and custom, but leave the separate parts of each word with no meaning of their own.
At close quarters some words have a heartfelt affinity, others hyphenate self-consciously, and some are grouped hook, line and sinker. Words have tendencies to gather, interrelate and revel in their jointly generated powers, as they build phrase and sentence to engender comprehension and creativity. The order can be changed: the composition can balance stresses, disturb preconceptions, make meaning out of contrasts and conflicts, dictate the placing of phrases in crowded texts.
In accentuated cafés and discothèques there is an occasional rôle for a more encyclopædic breadth, but, in the main, written English works with just 26 letters, and now, when text is prepared for publication, there’s seldom support for typographic ligatures. All those words – so stiffly made from so few letters – squat as if on sorting racks and monochromic grids. Possibilities of further playfulness and curlicue are ignored, forgotten or never even known.
Recollection of the phrase
When words are gathered in short phrases, obedient or insubordinate clauses, the time is ripe for bits and bobs to start their interaction on the page. Together they may be ordered as arguments or, more likely, burdened with unpredictable and unintended ironies. Some phrasings reverberate with diplomacy and deliberation, and mean only what is later discovered with forensic scrutiny and tranquil hindsight.
Between two points
The hook, the handle, the place that indicates centre of gravity can be hidden in the tumbling of even the simplest space between two points. As words and groups of words gather with pretended purpose, there is not so much a commonality of meaning as the neat or haphazard arrangement of raw and cooked dishes in a semantic picnic basket. It isn’t always easy to decide between good looks and good taste, wholesomeness and hedonism.
Doing time together
Sentences expose the tense undersides: the viscera that may be dislocated or melded by the surface lexical patterns. Tone and time and modal angularity determine how a sentence reads, how it relates to others in the vicinity, and how constructed discourse laces up. Proposing discrete meanings for single sentences validates frenzied metaphysical cries or epitaphs, brings on the death of sense and a language of faith not reason.
Like lengths of rope, intertwined or fastened end-to-end, sentences support or extend each other. Contemporary processes and post-philosophies remove limits on interchangeability and flux, equalizing emphasis, flattening textures, becalming currents and allowing surfaces to grow fœtid and opaque. Sets of sentences, thrown like sticks or stones, can reverberate in the flatness, but have no sequence and little consequence.
After a number of paragraphs there is sometimes extra space or a line of little stars, prompting a breather, a moment’s pause to refresh the eyes or consider a train of thought or sequence of actions. Some cannot resist the prompt to signpost these sections with headings and explanations. The gaps are visible on the page but not always on the screen, where a hiatus may encourage frantic scrolling or abandonment of reading altogether. A break within a text can be an excuse to stop reading for the night or at other dark times.
Eventually there is a need to make a change in topic or direction, to open a new chapter. This means closing the container that holds one bunch of words, putting it to one side and setting off to fill a new box with different bits of text. It’s funny that this new emptiness is roughly the same size as the last, no need to change the idiom that much. There’s a comfort in the new number, sometimes a title, summary or list of keywords, but best of all is the nice area of white space at the top of the page and a very big initial letter.
Turn it up
And so it goes on, with chapter after chapter until part or total length is reached. It is now a work, a tome, a volume battling not to be ignored, perhaps a member of a set or series, a filling of a shelf, a cradling in the hand, a mover of eyes from side to side, a spender of spirit and sensibility, a grouper of ideas and ideologies, a bringer of profit or loss, a parcel of rotting paper leaves, a lighter of fires, a wiper, a soaker up, a knapsack treasure, a hidey-hole horror, a life-saver, a carrier of despair or desperation, black-on-white courage and phantom-like fears, dream or nightmare: one word after another makes these things and how it happens, what tools go into the making of the text, what storms and becalmings can result mean it’s a process worth taking seriously.
All the series and sets never come together in one place. Language determines that most often, but also the where and when, what’s being said and unsaid, values of cannon and collection. Divisions of respectability and recall affect even the most complex archival ambition so that the word choices made at the very beginning determine the availability and influence of all collections and their cataloguers. The proliferation of data scanned and stored discovers little and dissimulates most. If there is no honest way to look at what hides in full view, then texts, words, crikey!
© Kelvin Smith 2015
Making it up is a new text that started on 21st January 2015 and ended on 4th February 2015.