Marjorie Agosín writes of a beloved childhood nanny: "Since I was Jewish she baptized me with holy water brought forth from the fonts of nearby churches. She told me to stay very still so I wouldn't sprout horns. . . . I was somewhere between taciturn and happy gazing into the mirror as if approaching the edge of a cliff . . . and I watched myself in the deep, transparent veil of this night of all nights." Many of the themes expressed in this vignette—cultural dissonance, family, and community—are poetically intertwined throughout The Alphabet in My Hands. Agosín takes us on a personal journey of discovery that is as much internal reflection as it is an exodus across continents and decades.
Agosín's childhood and early adolescence were spent with her Jewish family in Chile. While her family raised her to regard her Jewish heritage with loving awareness, they also participated in the dominant Catholic culture—an aunt organized Easter egg hunts and her mother admired the beauty of Chile's Catholic churches. The young Agosín became keenly aware of her dual identity in her country, both as a participant and an outsider.
The second half of The Alphabet in My Hands recounts the events that forced her family to emigrate to America: the overthrow of Salvador Allende by General Augusto Pinochet. Agosín writes of her new life in Athens, Georgia, of the sudden loss of all that was familiar. Ostracized as an emigrant—a "non-white" with a strange foreign accent—her high school years were made even more painful by the news from Chile: prisoners taken and classmates disappearing or shot.
Years later, Agosín goes back to Chile and she travels there with her own children. As she stares down at her old homeland from the plane, she writes: "Why do I love this place that forced us into exile, that punished my father for being a Jew?" And in the final chapter of The Alphabet in My Hands, this award-winning poet addresses two important topics: her current residence in New England and the central role of writing and literature in her life.
Becoming Beside Ourselves continues the investigation that the renowned cultural theorist and mathematician Brian Rotman began in his previous books Signifying Nothing and Ad Infinitum...The Ghost in Turing’s Machine: exploring certain signs and the conceptual innovations and subjectivities that they facilitate or foreclose. In Becoming Beside Ourselves, Rotman turns his attention to alphabetic writing or the inscription of spoken language. Contending that all media configure what they mediate, he maintains that alphabetic writing has long served as the West’s dominant cognitive technology. Its logic and limitations have shaped thought and affect from its inception until the present. Now its grip on Western consciousness is giving way to virtual technologies and networked media, which are reconfiguring human subjectivity just as alphabetic texts have done for millennia.
Alphabetic texts do not convey the bodily gestures of human speech: the hesitations, silences, and changes of pitch that infuse spoken language with affect. Rotman suggests that by removing the body from communication, alphabetic texts enable belief in singular, disembodied, authoritative forms of being such as God and the psyche. He argues that while disembodied agencies are credible and real to “lettered selves,” they are increasingly incompatible with selves and subjectivities formed in relation to new virtual technologies and networked media. Digital motion-capture technologies are restoring gesture and even touch to a prominent role in communication. Parallel computing is challenging the linear thought patterns and ideas of singularity facilitated by alphabetic language. Barriers between self and other are breaking down as the networked self is traversed by other selves to become multiple and distributed, formed through many actions and perceptions at once. The digital self is going plural, becoming beside itself.
History of Writing
Steven Roger Fischer Reaktion Books, 2004 Library of Congress P211.F63 2001 | Dewey Decimal 411.09
From the earliest scratches on stone and bone to the languages of computers and the internet, A History of Writing offers a fascinating investigation into the origin and development of writing throughout the world.
Commencing with the first stages of information storage, Fischer focuses on the emergence of complete writing systems in Mesopotamia in the fourth millennium BC. He documents the rise of Phoenician and its effect on the Greek alphabet, generating the many alphabetic scripts of the West. Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean and Japanese writing systems are dealt with in depth, as is writing in pre-Columbian America. Also explored are Western Europe's medieval manuscripts and the history of printing, leading to the innovations in technology and spelling rules of the 19th and 20th centuries.
The first comprehensive intellectual history of alphabet studies.
Inventing the Alphabet provides the first account of two-and-a-half millennia of scholarship on the alphabet. Drawing on decades of research, Johanna Drucker dives into sometimes obscure and esoteric references, dispelling myths and identifying a pantheon of little-known scholars who contributed to our modern understandings of the alphabet, one of the most important inventions in human history.
Beginning with Biblical tales and accounts from antiquity, Drucker traces the transmission of ancient Greek thinking about the alphabet’s origin and debates about how Moses learned to read. The book moves through the centuries, finishing with contemporary concepts of the letters in alpha-numeric code used for global communication systems. Along the way, we learn about magical and angelic alphabets, antique inscriptions on coins and artifacts, and the comparative tables of scripts that continue through the development of modern fields of archaeology and paleography.
This is the first book to chronicle the story of the intellectual history through which the alphabet has been “invented” as an object of scholarship.
In February of 1971, in the Laotian village of Nam Chia, a forty-one year old farmer named Shong Lue Yang was assassinated by government soldiers. Shong Lue claimed to have been descended of God and given the mission of delivering the first true Hmong alphabet. Many believed him to be the Hmong people's long-awaited messiah, and his thousands of followers knew him as "Mother (Source) of Writing."
An anthropological linguist who has worked among the Hmong, William A. Smalley joins Shong Lue's chief disciple, Chia Koua Vang, and one of his associates, to tell the fascinating story of how the previously unschooled farmer developed his remarkable writing system through four stages of increasing sophistication. The uniqueness of Shong Lue's achievement is highlighted by a comparison of Shong Lue's writing system to other known Hmong systems and to the history of writing as a whole.
In addition to a nontechnical linguistic analysis of the script and a survey of its current use, Mother of Writing provides an intriguing cultural account of Shong Lue's life. The book traces the twenty-year-long struggle to disseminate the script after Shong Lue's death, first by handwriting, then by primitive moveable type, an abortive attempt to design a wooden typewriter, and finally by modern wordprocessing. In a moving concluding chapter, Smalley discusses his own complex feelings about his coauthors' story.
A is for all of us—everyone. Playing, learning, having fun.
The letters of the alphabet are brilliantly brought to life in a bright nursery school, where the children learn and play. B is for building blocks . . . but also for blowing out the candles on a birthday cake! C is for the colorful chairs the children take when the teacher rings a chime. Lively pictures designed around each letter show the children dancing, singing, listening to stories, tickling one another, and even engaging in an exciting game of tug-of-war. The fun rhymes and imaginative words for each letter make N is for Nursery a great book for children just learning to read and to recognize letters and letter sounds.
Originally published in 1956, N is for Nursery is the most recent addition to the Bodleian Library’s children’s book imprint and the perfect book for children to take with them on a new adventure like starting school.
Alphabetic letters are ubiquitous, multivalent, and largely ignored. Playful Letters reveals their important cultural contributions through Alphabetics—a new interpretive model for understanding artistic production that attends to the signifying interplay of the graphemic, phonemic, lexical, and material capacities of letters. A key period for examining this interplay is the century and a half after the invention of printing, with its unique media ecology of print, manuscript, sound, and image.
Drawing on Shakespeare, anthropomorphic typography, figured letters, and Cyrillic pedagogy and politics, this book explores the ways in which alphabetic thinking and writing inform literature and the visual arts, and it develops reading strategies for the “letterature” that underwrites such cultural production. Playful Letters begins with early modern engagements with the alphabet and the human body—an intersection where letterature emerges with startling force. The linking of letters and typography with bodies produced a new kind of literacy. In turn, educational habits that shaped letter learning and writing permeated the interrelated practices of typography, orthography, and poetry. These mutually informing processes render visible the persistent crumbling of words into letters and their reconstitution into narrative, poetry, and image.
In addition to providing a rich history of literary and artistic alphabetic interrogation in early modern Western Europe and Russia, Playful Letters contributes to the continuous story of how people use new technologies and media to reflect on older forms, including the alphabet itself.
Asserting that written language is on the verge of its greatest change since the advent of the printing press, visual artist Craig McDaniel and art historian Jean Robertson bring us Spellbound—a collection of heavily illustrated essays that interrogate assumptions about language and typography. Rethinking the alphabet, they argue, means rethinking human communication. Looking beyond traditional typography, the authors conceive of new languages in which encoded pictorial images offer an unparalleled fusion of art and language. In a world of constant technological innovation offered by e-books, tablets, cell phones, and the Internet, McDaniel and Robertson demonstrate provocatively what it would mean to move beyond the alphabet we know to a wholly new system of written communication.
Kendra Allen’s first collection of essays—at its core—is a bunch of mad stories about things she never learned to let go of. Unifying personal narrative and cultural commentary, this collection grapples with the lessons that have been stored between parent and daughter. These parental relationships expose the conditioning that subconsciously informed her ideas on social issues such as colorism, feminism, war-induced PTSD, homophobia, marriage, and “the n-word,” among other things.
These dynamics strive for some semblance of accountability, and the essays within this collection are used as displays of deep unlearning and restoring—balancing trauma and humor, poetics and reality, forgiveness and resentment.
When You Learn the Alphabet allots space for large moments of tenderness and empathy for all black bodies—but especially all black woman bodies—space for the underrepresented humanity and uncared for pain of black girls, and space to have the opportunity to be listened to in order to evolve past it.