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All A are not B

An excellent new event put on by Triple Canopy on the aesthetic dimensions of the “diagram.” As they write:

Approaching the diagram in such a way—as an epistemological figure—means questioning the nature of relationships between things and how we perceive them, and how we understand our own subjectivity in relation to that process.

The event is tied to the launch of a new book, Materialität der Diagramme, but is part of a range of new work addressing the place of the diagram as both an aesthetic and epistemological object in cultural history (think of the work of John Bender in English or Matthias Bauer in German or Frederik Stjernfeldt’s Diagrammatology).

What interests me is the way the history of reading is bound up with the history of looking at diagrams. Diagrams are important to books, even as we can consider some aspects of books to be diagrammatic (like an index or table of contents or even the page at some level with its structural elements of page numbers, running headers, and chapter heads). As I’ve begun to do more and more work on my topologies of literature project — on things that are explicitly visual — I’ve come to realize how important the diagram is to the history of textual analysis. What kinds of critical reading does the translation of linguistic information into visual form make available? What are the biases of this kind of representation, what gets lost?

As we move more and more into digital projects that translate texts into new forms, the history of diagrammatical thought (as opposed to the purely grammatical kind) will be increasingly important. The structure of the shape of reason — the aesthetics encoded in thinking — will become more pronounced. I think for some this proves unsettling (a reversal of the comfortable hierarchy of word over image (or number)). For me, I find it very exciting as it tries to bring together these different forms of reasoning — how the visual, the linguistic, and the numerical interconnect under the larger heading of “reading.”


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