A three-year Midlands3Cities / AHRC-funded PhD at Birmingham School of Art, England (2014-17).

-and-being-of-the-#langscape-[fold here]exploring the malleability of landscape, language and the creative act

This practice-led research diffracts language and landscape through ‘art-writing’: typography becomes a means to visually manipulate text; speech and sound recording manipulate the oral, returning the tongue to language (torque the talk); and Language is (under)mined by pun, nonsense, and neologism (sensual manipulation). Harold Pinter described W.S. Graham as a poet who showed, “an intelligence and sensibility ravished by language and conundrum of language,” whose work took him to, “silence and the other side of language.”[1] Graham writes passionately, ruggedly, delicately, courageously…but by making language monolithic and two-sided we endanger possibility. Graham knew this, for he inhabits language; he is grappling and dancing with words. A form of Foucauldian parrhesia fuels his writing.[2] Furthermore, in these encounters Graham’s ego is absent, an “I” remains but, as the plants and hills of the Penwith landscape outside his cottage blur with the words in the “white space,” so the “I” is enmeshed—a surface-ground of land-words-I is invented and holds just long enough.[3]

Ian Hamilton Finlay and Hamish Fulton work with words and landscape too but in very different ways; herman de vries channels Wittgenstein; Matias Faldbakken smudges and erases word-shapes, and takes language on a voyage through, “abstraction into illegibility or absurdity.”[4] Lewis Carroll and Flann O’Brien stretch sense to its limit as language stutters.[5] In this stuttering language is heard and speech and sound bring fresh shape and colour: the sound envelope describes a shape, a non-existent shape, but one that holds together and co-heres; the sound is lost but a sound lingers on…with colour and a flavour.

Applying Karen Barad’s notion of agential realism to art-writing this research cuts together-apart language, representation, vocality and entanglement.[6] Language becomes landscape. Landscape to be mined, moulded and shaped, a fluid landscape where passive, framed, Picturesque landscape is replaced by the active Ingoldian landskyppan—tipping our understanding towards a Heraclitean world where, “everything flows.”[7] Manuel de Landa brings us to a similar understanding where this world (including human bodies) is “represented” by, “a local slowing down of […] flowing reality.”[8]

The boundary between language and landscape flows and blurs: now langscape is explored on foot—running and walking—and through other exertions. Maps are plotted to navigate by but are immediately torn apart. Geological processes are brought to bear as the langscape faults and folds. Unconformities become features for exploration but the processes themselves are the unconformities; processes feedback. This is no comfortable feedback loop bringing harmony but, instead, it at once undoes and forms, providing stances to move on from but not to return to (stances to re-turn from). Within the dynamic of this threads a creative act.

Beckett performs feedback with the situations of play, stage, audience and he also questions creativity—he mocks the perceived simplicity of the creative act: Samuel Beckett’s Hamm teases with his demanding of Clov to, “have an idea. [Angrily.] A bright idea!”[9] The lightbulb above the head is smashed and the sharp, gritty fragments are palpated. Through the burrowing of this research the creative act is broken together-apart in a Baradian act of diffraction.

The art-writing practice recasts the Diogenean Cynic with and against the British Romantic and in this move both are reclaimed as tacticians. Two Cynic modes in particular are key to this research: the Foucauldian readings of “changing the value of the currency,” and parrhesia (along with “techniques of the self”) will be utilized in grappling with langscape.[10] The now ragged British Romantic is embraced for senses of awe and joy and for Coleridge’s terrain-informed meter, Turner’s spit and Dorothy Wordsworth’s “minority.”[11]

This research responds tactically to a variety of situations or themes including langscape and in this burrowing, or scaping, the situation of the PhD itself is brought into feedback: events of the programme writing the work as the work is writing. A research blog is at once a repository and a record of words, sounds, and images and a landscape.[12] The blog-post minings are re-turned (to), their spoil heaps worked over for future direction and opening up opportunities for discussion and collaboration. This mining does not exhaust the langscape but re-invents it.[13]

[1] “www.haroldpinter.org – W.S. Graham,” haroldpinter.org, last accessed 2nd December, 2016, http://www.haroldpinter.org/poetry/poetry_graham.shtml
[2] Michel Foucault, The Courage of the Truth (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), 1-19 & 239-42.
[3] Adam Piette, “’Roaring between the lines’: W.S. Graham and the White Threshold of Line-Breaks,” in ed. Pite, Ralph and Hester Jones, W.S. Graham: Speaking Towards You (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2004), 44-62.
[4] “Paula Cooper Gallery,” last accessed 2nd December, 2016, https://www.paulacoopergallery.com/exhibitions/matias-faldbakken/press-release
[5] i.e. Lewis Carroll, “Jabberwocky,” in The Complete Works of Lewis Carroll (London: ???, 1939), 140-42 and Flann O’Brien, The Third Policeman (London: Harper perennial, 2007).
[6] Karen Barad, Meeting the universe halfway: quantum physics and the entanglement of matter and meaning (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2007) and “Diffracting Diffraction: Cutting Together-Apart,” Parallax, 20:3, (2014): 168-187, doi: 10.1080/13534645.2014.927623
[7] Scape: “Old English sceppan or skyppan, meaning ‘to shape’. (Olwig, 2008).” Tim Ingold, Being Alive: essays on movement, knowledge and description, (London: Routledge, 2011), 126. “Everything flows” (panta rhei) is attributed to Heraclitus and recorded by (a translated) Diogenes Laertius as, “the sum of things flows like a stream.” Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers Vol. II, trans. R.D. Hicks (London: Heinemann, 1925), 415.
[8] Manuel de Landa, A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History (New York: Swerve, 1997), 258.
[9] Samuel Beckett, The Complete Dramatic Works (London: Faber and Faber, 2006), 114.
[10] Foucault, Courage of the Truth, 1-19 & 239-42 and The History of Sexuality Vol. II: The Use of pleasure (London: Penguin, 1985), 10-11.
[11] Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature, trans. Dana Polan (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003).
[12] Stuart Mugridge, “-and-being-of-the-flows–[fold here]-running-Romantically-a-#BritishLangscape,“ (blog), 2nd Decemebr, 2016, https://romancingthebritishlandscape.wordpress.com
[13] But as with all mining there are dangers as Nietzsche’s ”subterranean man” fully knew and this work carries the teetering burden of “contentment” and “distress.” Nietzsche, Friedrich, Daybreak: Thoughts on the prejudices of morality, trans. R.J.Hollingdale (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 1.


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