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Monday, November 25, 2019

Ideograms To lbs

Episode One Hundred Fifty Four: Ideograms To lbs.
In which we're stuck in concrete.

1 comment:

  1. I got lost this week trying to diagram a significant change in our phone system. One sticking point involved creating icons to represent people: counter folk, walk-up customers, call-in customers. I kept trying to imbue them with personality, changing their body positions to indicate actions. And then I kept backtracking, reminding myself that every step I took away from abstraction just led the reader of the documentation off-point. I needed something to say “Receptionist,” and nothing else.

    This reminded me of Ezra Pound and his interest in the ideogrammic, as opposed to phonogrammic, languages. I don’t know much about linguistics, or what Pound was getting at, but I am intrigued by his excitement around the idea that an ideogram might be, as he said, ‘concrete’ in its meaning. Compared to the fluidity of meaning in Western languages, that describe the sound a person makes, Pound saw the pictorial representation of a thing to be a mainline toward its essence. It was this excitement that was the foundation of the Imagist movement in poetry: No Ideas But In Things.

    Unless I’m missing something, Pound’s assertion would be seen as na├»ve today. Absolutely, the Chinese written character of ‘Man’, as a pictorial representation of a singular concept, is profoundly different than the written interpretation of the sounds that signify that concept in any given language. But still, the meaning of that character must mean something vastly different to the people who write and read it, implications skewing its meaning based on class, or gender, or age, or race, or geographic location. I think of how quickly Western culture has gotten to the place in which abstractions of ‘man’ and ‘woman’ on public bathrooms are now themselves seen as revealing of the limitations of those previously ‘concrete’ classifications.

    And so it was with this phone system manual. How to make it easily understandable, and useful, without getting lost in varying interpretations. This comic describes that process: I say ‘phone’ and my listener says ‘bone.’ This almost-communication (almost, but essentially wrong) repeats, until the listener indicates they don’t have time for it anymore. The punch line here, of course, that I indicate my frustration around this inevitable flop with an utterance that is, itself, a close approximation of what I mean to say, but is itself the wrong word.

    The meta-punch line being that Pound’s ‘concrete’ imagism is itself just as stupidly fluid as everything else. No one is any closer to conveying meaning than they ever were, and I have just lost a week wondering around in the semiotic ooze.

    When I cast for a Title, I looked for a phrase that ‘ideogram’ might often be a paired with, hoping for something obvious to pun off of. But nothing came up. The only suggestions Google gave me had to do with the measurement unit ‘gram.’ And so, I went with that, “Ideograms to Pounds”, which fit perfectly with the concept of trying to translate ideas, but weighing totally different measurement systems against each other.

    And then, when it was all done, I looked at it and suddenly realized that Ezra Pound was in the title as well. Very satisfying.

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