Sunday, July 10, 2005

Meditations on Utopia

It is too much in my nature to rush past new information, jumping to conclusions, head over heels into a novel theory. Or to reduce to bits and pieces some older construction. Today I shall treat as a day of rest and contemplation, to observe and meditate on the forms before me.

I see the predominance of the circle and the rectangle, with a triangle, for the trinity(?) in a nearly central position. I see to the left of the triangle an anomalous shape - it is the only one which eludes analysis.

The more symmetrical shapes resist rotation into different orientations. I was about to say that "f "cannot be rotated, but I stop myself and rephrase it. The rotation of the symbol for "f" cannot be perceived. (I take a detour and consider whether I would want to use an encoding for the Utopian alphabet, but I correct myself and google a Utopian font instead. It exists but I will not use it today.) After all, this is the Latin alphabet in a different visual form: it is not actually an alien writing system.

A, b, c, d, e, f, parallel r, s, t, v, x, y. The alphabet is composed of 6 modified circles, 4 curly and rotated semi-circles, an anomalous figure, a triangle, 4 rotated right-angles, and 6 modified rectangles. An idea suggests itself, if the triangle represents God, could the anomalous reunited semi-circles represent humanity? Maybe, but that is outside of my task today - that is speculation and not observation.I have forsworn speculation for today. It occurs to me that I might one day choose to read the entire text of Utopia to understand this better.

Now back to what I know as fact. Thomas More created a religious and God centred Utopia. Aside form this single central feature, his work has been compared to that of Plato and Marx.

In spite of the emergence of vernacular written languages in the 1500's, More wrote his book in Latin.* He wished to create a universal work that spoke to humanity as a whole and not to a particular nationality.

More lived on the brink of emerging European nationalism. He clung to an earlier way, an idealistic vision of a united humanity, not divided into races and religions. An odd book Utopia, fettered by the harshness of that time but dreaming of universality and tolerance.

From the printers note we know that the Indian tongue was "nothing so strange among us" and it makes me wonder if he were refering to Devanagari or Tamil (scroll down and look at the long e). The creator of this alphabet may owe some portion of his invention to Indian alphabets. Perhaps I see some Greek as well. I leave this thought for later.

And reread this passage from The Alphabetic Labyrinth by Johanna Drucker, 1995.

"Attitudes towards languages evolved in the Renaissance from the conviction that language could be analysed for its perfection, as evidence of divine inspiration, to a realization that languages were embedded in human history, were inconsistent, imperfect, and subject to chanage. The boundaries of cultural experience expanded with increased exploration and trade, increasing exposure to an array of foreign languages which appeared exotic to Europeans whose own language schemes were put into perspective by contrast.

The universal language schemes which emerged in this period, particularly in the 17th century, were motivated by one or more of the following desires: to recover the lost perfection assumed to be embodied in the original language spoken by Adam; to find a system of polyglot translation capable of breaking down the barriers between peoples which were embodied in linguistic differences; and to construct a system in which linguistic categories would designate logical categories in a more perfect relation of language and knowlege. It was written language, rather than spoken language, which lent itself to these proposals, in part because the concrete quality of its visual form lent itself to more ready manipulation within the descriptive systems."

This meditation poses several further questions. What does More's Utopia reveal about 16th century attitudes and beliefs concerning languages and writing systems? Is the graphic representation of the Utopian alphabet a candidate as an early antecedent for the graphic shapes of the Cree Syllabarium? Which Eastern writing systems were known in Europe in the first half of the 16th century?

*If you have seen the movie Man for all Seasons you may remember that More's daughter, Meg, held her own with Henry VIII in a conversation in Latin. H.8. was not too shabby at Latin himself, I imagine, with his clerical education.

Addendum: I have incorrectly used the term rotations for what should be labeled 'orientations', or vertical and horizontal flips.


Blogger Suzanne E. McCarthy said...

I have since seen that a book has been published on this topic in Italian.

Le Lingue Utopiche

6:38 PM  

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