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Notes by Alan Dix on "Lines: A Brief History"

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Lines: A Brief History


I first came across Tim Ingold's work when we were both giving keynotes at a small conference on Space and Spatiality at Napier, Edinburgh.

Although we didn't know about each other's work, we both talked in very different ways about similar themes. I was talking about Paths and Patches drawing analogies between the way we learn about space as a child and the way we learn and link more abstract concepts. Ingold talked about the primacy of lines/paths using the experiences of reindeer herders as his empirical touchstone. This meeting will have been about a year after the lecture series Ingold gave down in London that eventually lead to this book.

Ingold's taxonomy of lines has two major classes (although these are not meant to be utterly disjoint): threads and traces. The former are things such as roots, ropes, fibres, or textile threads that may be suspended in space or laid on or through a surface, but have identity and continuity of themselves. The latter are the marks left by movements on surfaces.

However, probably the most important distinction is in the change from lines as flows of movement to lines as point-to-point or even connectors. Ingold sees this as a major shift in modern life, but dating back, certainly to Roman roads and Seafarers lens of sight. Ingold talks abut wayfarers for who the joinery is the hint, or as the Inuit put it "life happens while travelling" as opposed to trail following with is all about getting A-to-B.

This has some connections to my own work (intermittently over many years) on status--event analysis, phenomena that are more about continuity in time, as opposed to those that happen at specific moments. While at one level Ingold is talking about space rather than time, the whole point is that the two are interchangeable, or at least connected during a journey. I know that before I started the walk and someone mentioned somewhere in wales, instantly an approximate date wild come to my mind, andy that was before I actually walked it.

One of my critiques of computing and to some extent HCI is the focus of event phenomena, whereas often the way we perceive things is in their continuity. This parallel very much Ingold's critique of the modern line.

The line as point-point leads to a focus on the network, which is the heart of many recent web research and business: networks of concepts in the semantic web, networks of friends in Facebook, and at Talis networks of educational resources and teachers and students.

Ingold's critique of the network as being essentially fragmented precedes the real explosion of the network meme, and is prescient. When presenting about the walk at Swansea I said I wanted to ease out various threads and themes form the narrative accounts I have been producing. Matt Jones quite rightly cautioned about an arbitrary fragmentation of this rich account, and I am sure exactly what Ingold would say. the challenge seems to be how to retain the integrity the flow f the narrative, the wayfarers, the travellers experience, but still thread fresh connections within it.

In my talk on Paths and Patches these were not simple nodes and links, but each rich in themselves, places of dwelling with rich memories attached to each and pathways with tear own stories built up over multiple journeys, such as the alleyways my sister and I walked each dog to school. As a conceptual landscape, the sharp distinctions necessitated by labels and words actually represent often overlapping, or fuzzy edged ideas just as 'thread' and 'trace' are.

Another core concept of my own 'ontology of the line' is between the two roles of the line as something they joins ended to end,or something they divides side to side: paths vs borders. The latter is a particular property of lines on surfaces. It was Poincare who, I think, first pointed out that every closed line on a 2D (Euclidean) surface has an inside and an outside (that is a 'flat' Euclidean surface, doughnuts can have closed lines, say going round them, that have only one 'side', as do Möbius strips.

Ingold does not mention boundaries much as he is more interested in journeys and the paths of these, drawing especially on his own anthropological experience with nomads. It is interesting that my own childhood where my first memories tend to be of places: my own and friers houses, shops, church, will have been so different from that of a nomad child.

Ingold is an anthropologist, but in a few places I was sent wondering how a media studies person would play with similar themes. The American road is essentially about trail following, getting from A-to-B as quickly and easily as possible, and yet the classic road movie turns this upside down, making the journey, the wayfaring, the focus where the line becomes a thread of events and experiences.

When Ingold muses about the line with an end (you got to B) with the more open-ended line of travel, I thought of the Italian Job. The original (British) version ends with the bus of gold, the thieves inside, precariously perched over a cliff overhanging an Italian Lake. Michael Cain issues those unforgettable words , "I have an idea". In contrast the (Hollywood) remake not only ends with the goodies (who were undeniably goodies, no mixed messages of British cons vs Italian Mafia) getting the gold, but in the credits tells you what they did with it and how they lived the rest of their lives.

When discussing the point-and-connector network, Ingold compares this with Lefebvre's richer notion of meshwork. Later when looking at genealogy Ingold take apart the network-like image of individuals linked by descendent relations, and instead replaces this with overlapping threads of life, springing from one another, but laid alongside each - points of connection between overlapping threads of life, not lines between separated individuals.

This reminded me of the way I always explain the distinction between Newtonian physics and Einstein's relativity. the former is space centric and like a lasagne of surfaces of 'now' each instant laid on top of the previous one. the latter is more like spaghetti, with each individual (person/particle) carrying their own time and meeting and overlapping for periods of their own existence.



Ong - writing separates language from sound


"The history of writing" (me) by definition history is writing, the history of writings the history of mankind


writing - directed inwards - meaning; musical score - directed outward - performance. (me) what about play's script or a poem? early semitic languages have no vowels in written form, assumed to be an aide memoir, not a replacement for memory (N.B. later Ingold says something very like this)


Certeau - writer as coloniser of the page


Rabasa - Columbus ship cutting the ocean like a pen on the surface of the page


to read (Anglo-Saxon) to give/take counsel ready = having taken counsel


Augustin's surprise at Ambrose's silent reading


trail following vs way faring - by latter Ingold means following previously travelled way, but where landmarks are about recollection (like reading a familiar book?)




Peter the Venerable lost his voice and so could not read c.f. when Miriam had laryngitis she could not hear perfect pitch


complexity of music in early plainsong from 2 symbols: up and down (neumes)


neumes surviving only in the interstices of punctuation


back to Ong - script or print as the reefier of language?


early Japanese music notation about fingering - the movement/gestures of the body vs. modern notation - about the sound itself


earliest arts add earliest builders - Semper said thread (wove clotha dn shelters), but Riegal says trace


Old English 'written' means to inscribe runic letters on stone. (me) does Ingold know about Ogham script literally written on a line?


cuts, cracks and creases (me`) all boundaries between surfaces


3D lines with no surface


Eiffel tower - Kandinsky "early attempt to create a particularly tall building out of lines -- line having ousted surface." makes me think also of the design of La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Gaudi's hanging strings


mazes and Gell Art and Agency


"line" from '"linea" Latin (same root as flax and linen) - thread, text and textile


diagonal lines appearing in cloth that are not the thread itself - like loci in mathematics


Sterne, Tristram Shandy - the line flowing freely vs the line in a hurry - flourish vs dot-to-dot


Inuit "move through the world along paths of travel"; British "sailed across … the surface of the globe"


Inuit "life happens while travelling"


Dryden "as Line Upon the Oceans go" c.f. coastal vs inland maps of the time


marching vs walking utopian - placeless space vs. utopian (me: fitted to the environment) and 'regenerate the places that give us sustenance" (Olwig, 2002, p.23)


roads (me) the road movie changes road as point-to-point transport back int wayfaring


'mesh work' (Levebvre) Aborignes "all our words for 'country' … are the same as the words for 'line'" (Chatwin, 1987, p.62) 'archi-textual' (Levebvre)


"… lines of occupation do not only connect. They also divide …" (me) closest to my two uses of a line


lines "for which millions of people have died" (Perec)


sketch maps - akin to a 'walk'


Gibson - knowledge progressively disclosed vs. "joining up … observations taken forma number of fixed points"


Kaluli riverside names "not affixed to a specific location" but "denotes a moment" "to list these names is to tell a story"


but surveyor's names "indexed to location … without regard to how one arrives there"


Khanty story teller reps going until everyone asleep - the story is never finished 'story' = 'way' - (me) c.f. Italian Job original British vs Hollywood versions


thread of story looping back c.f. Benford et al. Trajectories


Solnit :To write is to carve a new path .. To read is to travel .. with the author as guide."


Berger - stories "Every step is a stride over something not said"


the modern reader "his cognitive task is rather to reassemble the fragment … into larger wholes …" (me) c.f. the post-modern reader of 'writerly'/'readerly' texts.


knot of dwelling at a place rather than connections between places (c.f. Paths and Patches). I was brought up in sedentary lifestyle rather than nomad, different worldview?


all wayfaring is "becoming rather than transport of already constituted being"


Bergsen -- organism an eddy rather than object


generations as overlapping threads. N.B. focus as much on culture as genes


Vygotsky, 1978 "children do not draw, they indicate, and the pencil merely fixes the indicating gesture" trace of action vs action to trace - but OK for some art - what about Jackson Pollock?


Roy Harris - notation (alphabet) vs script (reading/writing words)


"writing is still drawing"


Wlbiri - iconography - drawn elements used during story telling (e.g. line as spear), but meaning depending on context (e.g.g line can sometimes mean person lying down) - feed set but supporting rather tan replacing spoken language (me) c.f. Semitic writing, vowels remembered, or whiteboard after a meeting


art/technology distinction arose ~ 300 years ago technology coined to denote systematic application of artisan/artists's craft


the separation of body and art


Raskin - seeking the "awful lie" in tree, animal or cloud but (me) fig 8.5 - the line drawn are not the lines, the 'awful lines' emerge


Latin letters in profile "he Chinese letter faces you" Western script like walking, Chinese like dancing


children learning lettering - Chinese - the movement - the static letter is 'falling apart' (p.135) the Western child learns to reproduce the visual form not the movement until "they are no longer able to write, or read what is written in the air" (me) c.f. signature recognition - easier with the stroke, but signature os very much a practiced gesture


Chinese engraving tradition - static image - erasing strokes - moveable type long before Western printing


Ong - writing as "the technologizing of the world"

p.141 & fig 5.9

first (Sumerian) writing system - temple record - income and expenditure


Ong - violinist: the instrument "a mechanical contrivance" to "express something poignantly human" the player "interiorized the technology" - cyborg


Yen - hand writing is "a conduit between the mind and the surface of the paper"


quill pens - arm not hand movement - hard labour


Ong was comparing writing (technology) with speech (presumably non-technological?) but I would regard speech as a major technology - or to be precise language


'linear' vs 'line' - the dotted line - invisible point to point connections - imp. in the invisible connection more than the discretisation of the points


Corbusier - the man of reason "walks in a straight line … knows where he is going"


guidelines and plotlines


the Hebrew masara - taught warp-like core under manuscript to create invisible lines - mediaeval European scribes ruling lines with pointd styleus - marks in not on the page. Reminds me of carpenter's marking knife & builder's chalk line


the need for surveying in ancient Egypt as markers washed away each year by the floods


Middle ages - design for cathedrals improvised on site


jigs, rulers and templates - reduce risk (me) also allow repeatability


architects - "pretty pictures" (perspective) for clients, specification drawing (plan and elevation) for builders & sketches for themselves (me) esp. fig 6.4, sketch approximate plan and perspective - are test sketches helped by previous training in schematics?


points as dis-locations not locations


Olwig again - to pianism - humans as "creatures of history … create places"