Performing a palimpsest of language. The CENTRAL Library
I am sitting in my small studio in Northwest Portland. The room is stacked with books and there are bits of paper spread across the floor and tacked up along the walls. I am working on my library; I will be working late into the night.
The CENTRAL Library is a thick little collection of texts that I have been housing in and out of a filing cabinet here, filled with folders bearing titles such as Against Time (filled with writings on archivalization) and Debt (with language against the paradigm its title describes). The collection started with what I had already gathered –– I gave place to it in this system. I wanted to open up my collection to discourse, to other readership. I wanted to share what I had collected with people. I found that I was already doing a lot of this in my everyday life; I recommend research and readings to the people with whom I talk about work and ideas, and they do the same for me.
I moved to create a system of collecting that reflects the conviviality inherent in the very reading of a text, establishing reading, writing and speech on a continuous meshwork that can be traversed through paths and threads of movement.The movement of a page as it passes between hands. The movement of a body of research as it grows rhizomatically, unpredictably. The movement of the flight of thought. A fall into the infinitude of language, or the making of a home in its folds.
My research initiative CENTRAL has room in its program for a library among its projects, so I structured the library in keeping with CENTRAL’s tenants. The mission statement of CENTRAL is as follows:
CENTRAL uses a transdisciplinary approach to geographical inquiry with a plural imperative to transcribe, describe and inscribe its own pathway through the discursive landscape of the United States of America. …CENTRAL engages geographical issues in a manifold and participatory practice of making the world now.
Furthermore, as outlined on CENTRAL’s blog:
The project is named to implicate the notion of a geographic center, a heart of place, or an essence of location, which drives many geographical imaginaries, builds nations, sustains towns, shapes histories, and anchors memory. CENTRAL is also named for the notion of a center which drives the processes of research and writing through which we attempt to uncover a thesis. CENTRAL describes a highly mobilized and plural practice of research, interviews and multimedia creation, thereby shifting our conceptions of what can be a center, or what a center can be.
The first project of this initiative was a crowd funded cross country interview tour of the United States along which I spoke with many makers who are engaged in making place through a number of disciplines ranging from academia to art to community organization (and often blurring those boundaries). The tour, called The Railway Journey, was an inaugural experiment in opening up discourse to conversation, the chance operations of travel, and the wayfaring process of embodied research. Within the program of this tour I had already embedded the core values of porosity, conversation and connection in the creation of knowledge and inquiry.
When I came back from The Railway Journey I quickly returned to the text to continue the research I had carried on in conversations. I sent links and articles to people that I met along the train route and had conversations with my peers in my college, exchanging sources and resources. I wanted to create a system that allowed for the organization of discourse around text that carried the conviviality of The Railway Journey onto the page. The CENTRAL Library began to take shape.
The way I have structured this library reflects a research methodology that in turn reflects the values that I hold dear for knowledge production and discourse.
• The texts are all printed on basic 8.5x11 printer paper and stapled together. This format is immediate, relatable, honest and portable. It is what media theorist Vilém Flusser would call a “post-industrial object” in that it does not nedessitate the further use of machines in order to be accessed.
• Every reader of a text contributes the traces of their readership in the marginalia of the text, building up a palimpsest of markings and evidencing a colloquy between the shapes of the alphabet, the hand of the reader, and the language of the author.
• The texts are housed in and out of particular folders marked with a common theme and can be reorganized at will. The organization is largely performative –– it can, like any categorical system, provide road signs for navigating to a desired text, but the malleability of the labels in this categorical system emphasize the performative and evocative power of labelling and shuffling and reorganizing over the risk of entombment of a text to its label.
The collection of texts that I have collected so far is organized along spontaneously interconnected themes based off of a polymorphous central inquiry into the nature of place. Much of the writings were created under the auspices of the geographical discipline, while many others were intended as pieces of critical theory. Most of the texts have been somewhat wrested from their institutionalization –– downloaded and printed against copyright law.
The library is growing slowly and the people who surround it are engaging with it at their own pace –– some readers hold a text dear for weeks while others neatly return them to the library within only a few days. But the work does not necessarily lie in the pages and manila folders themselves. The work of the library is in the system of exchange and palimpsest. In this way, the work is never finished. It continually unfolds.
There are many ways to read and interact with a text. For the presentation of my undergraduate thesis I have chosen to take parts of the library and share them by performing them. I have been working with a score that I have iterated twice now already, in two different performances. I read language, I walk around, I sing, I share the words. The program of the library allows for multiple avenues of proliferation, engagement and sharing.
The library is a score for a performance, whether that performance be the marking up of a page or the singing of the language it bears. During the last week of April I will rearrange the language I encounter through the process of my library’s unfolding. I will perform the library and read aloud. Discourse is a continuum between reading, writing, speaking, singing, listening, moving, turning the page, turning around, going outside, sharpening a pencil, sharpening one’s tongue, softening one’s assumptions.
CENTRAL is a process of wayfaring through knowledge and discourse about place. The CENTRAL Library is a set of pathways through the thickets of language. They can be traversed however one likes. If you walk with me, I will show you what I have found.
2:54 am • 8 April 2013 • 2 notes