On Thu, 19 Jul 2012 16:16:05 -0700, Padraic Brown wrote:

>--- On Thu, 7/19/12, J. 'Mach' Wust wrote:
>> >All of the things that have been said
>> of Arabic
>> >calligraphy thus far can be applied equally to English
>> calligraphy.
>> Where is the established tradition in English calligraphy
>> that does not use one-dimensional base lines (lines where
>> all letters neatly sit on the base line, however curvy that
>> baseline may be)?
>Here's a couple:

Most of these are calligramms, the others might be called continuous or plane-filling. While these are very nice techniques (incidently, I think both are much more developed in Arabic calligraphy than in Western calligraphy), they are not what I was talking about. I mean a style of writing where you do have lines, only that within the lines, the characters are not ordered linearly. Non-linear lines, if you will. Within the lines there is a sub-structure of second-order lines. Look again at the following sample:

Here you see lines that run from right to left with an upwards curve. However, these lines are not linear, Instead, they are composed of sub-lines that run from top right to bottom left. At times, there are up to four words on top of each other, but within a structure that clearly still is a line.

Look again at the following sample:

At a first glance, this might appear to be a regular right-to-left line rendering of the name Muhammad. However, a closer look reveals that not all characters sit on the baseline. Instead, the first mīm is placed on top of the ḥāʾ. Mind you that this non-linear arrangement of characters is not a superscript, but a non-linear arrangement of characters.

Now you are going to claim, I assume, that a Western calligrapher could easily use this technique as well (theoretically). Of course they could, and anyone would be stupid to deny it. The difference between a Western calligrapher using this technique and an Arabic calligrapher using this technique is that the Arabic calligrapher is following a tradition and the Western calligrapher is not.

Why is it important whether you follow a tradition or not? Let's see what you said:

>Traditions matter -- but traditions are also to be broken down, and the
>bits recycled into something new and different. This is why we invent
>languages and writing systems. If tradition were the sacred cow you seem
>to want it to be, we'd all be speaking Indo-European and the thought
>police would arrest anyone who tried to come up with something new!

You're perfectly right, if tradition were inmutable, there would be no change. However, tradition is a two-faced coin. Denying the importance of tradition would be just as short-sighted as making an inmutable sacred cow of tradition. Tradition is a requirement for any calligraphy. Without tradition, there would be no writing at all. Writing does not mean, produce signs as you please. It means, write as others have done before you (or innovate based on what others have done before you). That is, writing requires tradition. It goes on: Without tradition, there would be no speech at all, not Indo-European or anything. Speaking does not mean, produce utterances as you please. It means, speak as others have done before you (or innovate based on what others have done before you). That is, speech requires tradition.

In the case of calligraphy, it is the same. Of course, traditions can be broken down and the bits recycled. But the breaking down and the recycling will only work if there is a tradition to be broken and recycled. You can't break and recycle something that does not exist. If you take zero and divide or multiply it, it is still zero.

And there is yet another aspect to it. Have you read J. L. Borges' "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote"? Maybe you would fail to understand it. The jest is that a piece of art is more rich and meaningful and important if it is produced from within a tradition. If an identical piece of art is produced without a tradition, it is nothing but an ad-hoc invention. An example: Imagine I were sketching a phonoesthetical program by uttering the following (hardly a piece of art, but just an example): "The word I am searching for the rose should have the quality that it makes the rose smell sweeter." If there were no Shakespearian tradition, this would be nothing but an ad-hoc invention. However, since we have a Shakespearian tradition, this is a play with tradition which adds whole new levels of meaning to the utterance.