Tim Ingold. Lines: a brief history. Routledge, 2007. Print.
An ecology of life, in short, must be one of threads and traces, not of nodes and connectors. And its subject of inquiry must consist not of the relations between organisms and their external environments but of the relations along their severally enmeshed ways of life. Ecology, in short, is the study of the life of lines. (103)
Tim Ingold’s fascinating study focuses on the way we live our lives according to lines (both actual and imaginary) and how it relates to current reading and composition practice. It is an assault on the already crumbling institution of linearity (a misleading term, according to him, since lines are not necessarily straight or sequential) and an homage to the meandering, wayfaring, veering, and exploratory journeys along the line. To use Paul Klee’s expression, he is into lines that develop freely and on their own time, lines that “go out for a walk” (73).
What this means for me is a certain embodiment of cognitive and creative processes that normally stay below the surface (according to Ingold, everything that sinks below the surface becomes a thread). The stability of the human body, Ingold reminds us, is dependent on the distribution of various counteractive forces (bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments) (51). He challenges the normative approach to working with text (via organ of seeing and motor function) and highlights the “hearing dominance” in the era of Medieval manuscripts (see this post on Edith Grossman’s “hearing” the original author’s work in her translation work). Referencing the work of Mary Carruthers, he explains that in the antiquity and Renaissance writing was used to retrieve information, rather than record. One experienced writing not as a “predetermined plot” but a “series of signposts, markers to allow the wayfarer find the path” (15). The text was approached holistically, “with one’s whole being,” and reading was both “acting out” and “taking in” (17).
This double approach to reading and writing has interesting implication to the process of translation. The translator both “takes in” the author and then “acts out” the text in another language. Depending on the genre (and this is true in more “plastic” pursuits such as poetry), the original, like the musical notation, provides an infrastructure, a guide for a new “performance” in the target language. Just like a piece of music can never be performed in the same way ever again, the original can generate multiple performances or improvisations. Translation process is very much an anti-process (like all creative writing) — meandering, folding in on itself, halting while reference materials are consulted, grinding to a halt when the original map becomes unreadable.
Ingold’s work with lines (he divides these into “threads” and “traces,” but I won’t go into detail on this classification in this post) spreads globally and temporally, and it is no surprise that Michael Cronin mentions his work in Translation and the Digital Age. International boundaries (whether along the border on invisible international water lines) all delimit the way we live our lives as “surveyors of our everyday lives” (Oatley cited in Ingold 88). Taking this one step further, it could be argued that translation also travels along these lines, albeit not in a uniform manner but jumping, skipping, and backtracking. The real question is what happens in those overlapping lines if we map the translated text onto the original?
My favorite chapter by far, however, had to do with Chinese calligraphy. I loved the description how the Chinese children learn to write in the air, remembering words as gestures rather than images (a practice that literally inscribes the characters into their bodies). We might be seeing something similar with the rising popularity of kinetic writing, which involves another type of translation/recognition between the machine and human gesture.