Friday, January 26, 2007


Well, I'm back in Charlottesville now, and have apparently, since Christmas, been going through an output dry spell. Does this ever happen to anyone else? It's not just that I'm not producing proper work (I actually have been adding pages, however dreary, to my thesis), but that I haven't got much to say other than that. I just feel that I should put something up here to voice my continuing existence.

Instead of writing, I have been soaking in things: while I was recuperating from having the wisdom taken out of me (all four wisdom teeth! and I learned that they're called such in many Indo-European languages), I read a few Rider Haggard novels and a Marryat novel: so lots of imperial adventure there. My mom got me a BBC Dickens collection for Christmas, so we watched a lot of those. I moved on to Christmas gifts soon and have been working through Pinker's "The Language Instinct," a popular scientific study of language and cognition (much in the style of "Guns, Germs, and Steel"). I'm also auditing a course on cartography this semester, and since is slow, the first few books on my syllabus have not arrived, so I'm immersing myself in the later books, which have arrived, and which are fabulous. Who knew the theories of cartography were exactly the same as those of literature, but with visual theory added in (more like visual poetry, I suppose)? It's dense but wonderful.

Oh, and over break Tim and I went to the Folger and drooled on their exhibit of early modern writing life after the advent of printing. One of my favorite displays was of the cryptographic methods used at the time; one was called a "casement letter." Both parties, writer and recipient, would have a physical guide to writing, called a casement, which was essentially a piece of thick, stiff paper with little windows cut out. This would be placed over a sheet of paper and the letter would be composed in the windows. Then the casement would be removed and the rest of the sheet of paper would be filled in with random sentences, so it would be impossible, in effect, to figure out the content of the true letter. The recipient would place their copy of the casement over the letter when they received it, and voila, the original letter would appear. With the casement over the page, though, the letters are suggestive of Jess's work in Organic Funiture Cellar. There's a sense of lightness to the page, and also a sense of being let in to view scattered bits of something. I guess what I'm saying is that in both cases the sense of confusion is strongly accompanied by the joy of being able to see even pieces of something, of being let in just for a little bit, of a child standing on tiptoe at a high window to glance at the sky.

Anyway, the kitchen timer calls: must take pasta out. More later?


Jessica Smith said...

oh gosh, this post makes me squeal with delight-- a course on cartography?! and the cryptograms?!?!? Eeee! (And you mentioned my book! :) Eee!)

You must give reports of what happens in your cartography class so I can live vicariously.

As for productivity, I've had writer's block for about a year now (regarding, well, every kind of writing other than blogging). You're smart to continue to try to write anyway, that's supposedly the only way to work through it. gooc luck!

Jessica Smith said...

gooc? good.
gooc luck, though, that sounds like melted ice cream. that can't be so bad.

AW said...

mmm. ice cream. when are you coming to visit? we should go out for melted ice cream.