Alphabetical orders

I dislike several things about text. One of the most annoying aspects is its linearity. You have to wait until one of those point things before you can start to understand what the most recent bit was about….by which time, you are supposed to refocus on the next part. It’s a little like having to pass the ball backwards in rugby -whilst nominally running forwards. And yet, when confronted at school by a poem about a star, with the words arrayed in the shape of…wait for it…a star, I found it completely contrived -the kind of thing solely written for ‘o’ level students to emulate as an exercise.

That’s another thing. With text, the shape it takes up is very much across-the-page. If the line length is much more than a few saccades-worth, I find the effort required to scan the pagewidth is enormous: after a while it becomes prohibitive. I spend a lot of time looking at the shapes within text at different scales: letters, words, sentences, paragraphs -being badly distracted by the information that these configurations contain, rather than by the meaning – It’s just not obvious to me at what level of ‘chunk’ is the meaning intended to be conveyed -individual words are too small, sentences are often too long.

One influential factor in my attempts to interpret these symbols may be that I’m mildly synaesthetic. When I look at text, I have the strong feeling that some of it is coloured (I know it’s not really, but in my mind’s eye, colours are somehow ‘attached’ to the letters). The word ’synaethesia’ for example has a red ‘a’ and a green ‘e’ next to each other. The rest of the word is dark grey. This, by the way, plays havoc with my ongoing attempts to understand mathematical symbolism. Mathematics tends to take on an immediate interpretation in terms of shape and colour which makes it harder to think about what the symbols stand for.

This also means that I have had, from early childhood, atypical mental maps of things. I believed, until in my twenties, that everyone had these internal constructions. Time, for example appears in my mind’s eye as being a large helix (the year, which is non-circluar in section) superimposed on which is a tighter helix representing the weeks. On each week’s swirl, Monday starts at the bottom left and sweeps up through the weekdays to Friday at top right, before swooping leftwards and down to form the loop which begins again at next Monday. I used to use this as a small child to visualise events in the distant future and drew great benefit from not having to rely on a conventional rectilinear calendar model.

There’s a horrible asymmetry about text that I’d prefer to see replaced by some kind of two-dimensional mind map. I always end up having to break the 2-D, pictorial way I think into some linear, toothpaste-squeeze sentences. This makes it all too easy to use too many words to get my point across, assuming I have one. When the meaning is expressed using a large number of sequential words, I find it becomes diluted, rather than intensified.

Writing has the great strength that so many combinations of thoughts can be expressed by a small collection of symbols. This sheer combinability of text, which doesn’t rely on being constructed from one-dimensional strings, is what enables people to create something unique to them and, god help us, publish it .

‘Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.’ – Soren Kierkegaard. (1813 – 1855). Cheers Soren mate -is that supposed to help?