Currently viewing the category: "Writing Systems"

JF Ptak Science Books Post 1905

Alphabet Hebrew sky806

Could we satisfy our selves in the position of the lights above, or
discover the wisdom of that order so invariably maintained in the fixed
stars of heaven……we might abate…..the strange Cryptography of
Gaffarell in his Starrie Booke of Heaven.
Thomas Browne1 (1605-1682) in his major Hermetic effort, The Garden of Cyrus, or The Quincunciall Lozenge, or Network Plantations of the Ancients, naturally, artificially, mystically considered (published in 1658).

The Garden of Cyrus is a neo-Pythagorean insight weaving together all manner of visions in nature and art, and the art of nature and vice versa and so on, all tied up in universal thinking about these intersections in terms of the great quincunx patterns and the number five and it various variants in terms of latticework and the figure X.


"What is more beautiful than the
quincunx, that, from whatever direction you regard it, presents straight
Quintillian's Institutio Oratoria VIII.3.ix

The Browne quote relate to the work of J. Gaffarel, who saw connections in art and nature quite literally in the structure of the heavens, among other places–but it is his "star-writing" that I'd like to address a bit here. His provocatively-titled Curiositez inouyes sur la sculpture talismanique des Persans, horoscope des Patriarches et lecture des estoiles ("Unheard-of Curiosities concerning Talismanical Sculpture of the Persians, the horoscope of the Patriarchs and the reading of the Stars") was published first in 1629 and then many times thereafter well into the 18th century. Garrafel (1601-1682) presented to the world a wide class of interesting subjects which had previously been thought of as being outside the normal realm of academic discussion, the subjects being mainly seen as dogmatic occultism. What Garrafel did was very interesting, writing about these areas as discussion-builders, as "curious" topics that could or should be considered to widen general inquiry. (In an interesting article, "The Use of Curiosity in Early Medieval France and Germany" the author Neil Kenny writes of Gaffarel, "Making occult knowledge into conversation rather than a dogmatic system made [his work] less likely to be universally censured")

His work definitely interesting and curious, though the use of that word didn't save him, as some of the topics were verbotten–certainly Gaffarel
was aware of this, and he tried his best to write about them in a way
that the ruling intellectual powers would not find offensive, but it
didn't work, and his book was found to be abusive and was banned by the
Sorbonne. This was such an integral action that Gaffarel succumbed to
not one but two retractions.

What is of primary interest right now with Gaffarel is his interpretation of writing systems, and how frequently they seem to exist exclusive of human manufacture. It seems that a fair percentage of the time that these appearances came in the form of agate. and that these durable micro- explorations in agate go back thousands of years,
expounded by Pliny and some of the other ancients, who followed the origins of
humanity back into the 1blog_oc_t_9_not_here_kircher_793rocks. This was a
popular idea for the origin of animate beings, propounding itself for centuries,
even winding up in the bony lap of Leibniz of all people, who wrote that “men
derive from animals, animals from plants, plants from fossils, which in turn
derive from bodies that the senses and imagination represent to us as being
totally dead and formless”. Stones
therefore held the seeds of the formation of the world; all things living,
breathing, and not.

Our own Athanasius Kircher, the definition of polymathic ability and
superior imagination was responsible for many such observations and
discoveries. It seems to me that as much
as Kircher gave, he took away, keeping ahead of his critics and the rest of the
scientific community with tremendous output…people I think just couldn’t keep
up with him. He found all sorts of
things in stone: as early as 1619 he exhibited an image of St. Jerome (in no less a place than the cave of the Nativity
in Bethlehem!) that he found in
agate. His Mundus Subterraneus (1661)
is a home to a wide range of these
objects: quadrupeds of all shapes and descriptions, human full-length
portraits, hands with jewels, and even the Virgin Mary and child. AS spectacular as these are there is always
more: the magnificent cityscape
(reproduced here) and the sublime discoveries of a full set of the alphabet and
a series of 15 geometrical drawings, all naturally impressed in stone.

Gaffarel's principle and perhaps first-on-the-scene notion (though some of it may have appeared in Agrippa’s Three Books of Occult Philosophy (first published in 1533)) was the elements of an alphabet–the Hebrew alphabet–was found not in stone, but actually written in the night sky. In the stars.

It was another sort of artificial language, an entire alphabet, though this was written in the sky; Hebrew letters transcribed in the stars, lines connecting them here and there. Replaceable letters from one point to another. The possibilities of the formation of actual words was present. This seems to have been the first time this idea appeared in print.


1. Browne's writing is both beautiful and difficult, or complex and impenetrable, as can be seen from the very opening paragraph of his work here.

That Vulcan gave arrows unto Apollo and Diana the fourth day after their Nativities, according to Gentile Theology, may passe for no blinde apprehension of the Creation of the Sunne and
Moon, in the work of the fourth day; When the diffused light contracted
into Orbes, and shooting rayes, of those Luminaries.
Plainer Descriptions there are from Pagan pens, of the creatures of the
fourth day; While the divine Philosopher unhappily omitteth the noblest part of the third; And Ovid (whom many conceive to have borrowed his description from Moses) coldly deserting the remarkable account of the text, in three words,
describeth this work of the third day; the vegetable creation, and
first ornamentall Scene of nature; the primitive food of animals, and
first story of Physick, in Dietetical conservation.

2. An interesting article in the blog 8vo appears here on Gaffarel's celestial writing.

JF Ptak Science Books Post 1166

Working on the next installment of cosmological images [and also a continuation of the series on writing systems] I put together a series on naming the stars, ideas providing the mechanics for naming the celestial kingdom, applying an alphabet for relative discussions of the heavens. The most provocative of them all, I think, belonged to Guillaume Postel (1510-1581), a scholar who took flight in his imagination and who established a world system which for him created a harmony between all things that existed and the maker of the universe, and which basically was an attempt to move far past any identification system to a catechize the stars. Postel’s was a communication system between man and the beyond, not a coordinate system. He incised the stars in his vault of heaven with Hebrew letters which would be the keys to understanding all things–and at the basis of all of this was his conception of a world unified religion which incorporated Christian ideas and values and to which all other religions would transpire.

Alphabet--stars hebrew519

There were numerous other attempts to establish divine alphabets, though none so far as I know were inscribed directly on the stars intended to serve as a means of transferring information and insight. The extraordinarily accomplished (Renaissance man of the Renaissance, physician, astrologer, botanist, occultist, and general fill-in for whatever discipline needed help) Paracelsus’ Alphabet of the Magi also used Hebrew letters supplemented with magical alphabets for divination purposes, though not on the stars. Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa (an astrologer/magician/theologian/occultist, 1486-1535) in the early 16th century came close to the Postel idea with his Angelic Alphabet, though this was used to communicate with angels and again was not incised on the stars themselves. John Dee’s (a man of many and high accomplishments, a mathematician, occultist, astronomer, astrologer, alchemist and divine, 1527-1608) angelic alphabet was somewhat similar to Agrippa’s; his “Enochian” language used to communicate with angels.

Letters and numbers were of course used on stars but in general were used to identify the magnitude and position of stars in the constellations. Johann Bayer (1572-1625) applied Greek letters to stars according to their relative luminosity in his revolutionar Uranometia (published in 1603). John Flamsteed (1646-1719, and who was "The King's Astronomical Observator" and the first British Astronomer Royal)would come a little later and use an arabic numeral and Greek letter system, which would give the relative luminosity as well as the star’s position from the western-most edge of its constellation.

But it was this image by Postel which is the most astonishing, really, attempting as it did to read the heavens and the works of God without ever having to actually see the Creator (a thing most impossible, as stated in Exodus 33:20).

JF Ptak Science Books LLC Post 434 (Dedicated to Jeff Donlan)

0 blog dec 19 tea294--detail

"Words are prophetic in themselves and the tea leaves open the avenues of imaginative thought." Your Fortune in the Tea Cup

"This was our paradox: no course of action could be determined by a
rule, because every course of action can be made out to accord with the
rule. The answer was: if everything can be made out to accord with the
rule, then it can also be made out to conflict with it. And so there
would be neither accord nor conflict here."–Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations §201

"Are you certain that you understand my language?" J.L. Borges, The Library of Babel, (the final query)

"The always wandering meaning of all literary representation, according to which meaning wanders, like human tribulations, like error, from text to text,
and within the text, from figure to figure." Harold Bloom, Kabbalah and Criticism.


Written, incised and drawn messages come to us in many forms, presented in clay, chipped into stone, painted on rock, drawn on paper, tied into chords, all to be appreciated by our sweaty eye. These varied elements have many different uses, from telling us what is going on, to what is happening now, and also about what might happen in the future. Sometimes the future is a tale written in letters, and sometimes in numbers, prediction rates of success varying sorta by the ratio of letters to numbers. Or not. Sometimes it takes the forms of sticks and lines, telling us how to move in dance (as with labanotation, below-right).

Messages can be quite clear, as in the presentation of an arithmetic progression, and can also be made to seem like nothing but gibberish. The final bit of a lettered segment in Jules Verne's Eight Hundred Leagues on the Amazon, for example, looks like this: "…KSPPSUVJHD", and is preceded by 264 other letters, looking much like a page from one of the books in our friend Borges' library at Babel. A cryptogram whose message could determine whether the main character lives or dies. (Even assuming a monoalphabetic substitution, its a tough little bugger to figure out–even when you start counting the appearances of the nonsense letters to try and figure what might stand for "E" and "A", you still have to work it against whatever language the cryptogram might've been done for. Once you toss in the polyalphabetic possibilities in, the room gets a little spinny.)

There is of course a identification of the source code for DNA, and then further to the sequencing of those elusive bits to determine and make sense of the order of the nucleotide basis, producing what on first blush looks like a laborious repetition of four basic letters interspersed with lots of other junk. With the key to this cypher, the letters and raw glyphs look less like an automated music box cylinder and more like the music of life that it represents.

Music box
Once you throw naturally-occurring glyphs into the fray the information pool becomes terrifically wide. Geological strata, the course of a lightning strike, the height of a cloud, the depth of a cave, all tell us enormous, almost incomprehensible stories, while things like stellar spectra hold the key to what stuff in the universe is made of, how old it is and where it is going.

The world is nothing but a collection of what has been written-on, and I would be terrifically remiss if I didn't mention the stories of animals left by their tracks, as full and interesting in their ticks and glyphs telling as striking a story as the geometrical marks scene on your monitor.



All of this leads us to the delightful pamphlet that provided us with the semi-secret image at the top of this post. The work engages the shadows of an ancient rite in an amused, amusing manner, not taking itself too terribly seriously, though does not abandon the possibility that fortune telling via the leavings in a tea cup is not impossible. The image at top left, which might look like one of those Eric van Daniken drunken "alien findings"scooped out of a Mayan lintel, is the bottom of an empty teacup, the bits representing the varied exuda freed from the drunken tea. And according to this pamphlet and another 2000 years or whatever of Asian history, these bits are as much a representation of reality as the English alphabet; and according to my very quick reading of the thing, it is also open as much to interpretation as it is to creative misinterpretation, which I guess is where the poetry must be. The geography of the items of the teacup are as important it seems as the things left behind: stalks, leaf bits, grounds are appraised for their wetness or dryness, their mobility or not, their position on the cup and their positions relative to one another, and on and on, dancing betwixt themselves in a changeable choreography of meaning and non-meaning, a closely gathered world of indefinite possibility.

In a world filled with religions and superstitions and mythologies and hopes and dreams and fears, I have no problem at all with elevating tea-leaf-reading to a marble altar.. None whatsoever– so long as the ultimately satisfactory Mr. Claus is received as well, or at least not bothered.

I've reprinted the entire pamphlet below. Somehow it is a very satisfying read.

If you enjoyed this, check out the following earlier posts:

Different Forms of Writing 2: Recording Movement. Dance Notation

Different Forms of Writing 1: Big Writing With Light—Nollet, Citroen, Barnum and Packard

of Shadows—Trithemius, Bacon, Porta, & Falconer vs. a Make-Believe
Derrida on
How to Make Something Unintelligible. Secret Writing and

0 blog dec 19 tea291

Read Full Article →

JF Ptak Science Books LLC Post #98

It’s intriguing to think of writing systems standing for things other than words—for example, one has the whole of the mathematical sciences, chemical notation, Feynman diagrams, weather patterns, and on and on. Lines and dots and squiggles and the like, not forming words, but something entirely else, an amanuensis for words.

The idea of adopting a written dance iconography—replacing drawings and written descriptions of dances—is nearly as old as the dance instructional itself. The notation used by Lana in the 1920’s was the first image that came into my mind for this alternative wiring scheme, but in fact there were several systems for recording the simple movement and placement of the feet that reach back into the 16th century. The first of these books to attempt to codify the movement of dance via non-descriptive writing is the letter codes employed by Thoinot Arbeau in his 1588 book Orchesographie. In this Socratic introduction to dance Arbeau showed foot and movement patterns and linked them (visually) with the music. What Arbeau was describing was solely the movements of the feet—everything else beyond that—position of the legs,

arms, head, etc.—was left unaddressed in the iconographie though he did connect them with engravings showing how the rest of the body should look at some point during the dance.

A similar system was employed in the 1680 Nvove inventioni di balli; opera…(left) , and then again in The dancing master; or, Directions for dancing country dances, with the tunes to each dance, for the treble-violin, "10th ed. corrected; with addition of several new dances and tunes never before printed", by Henry Playford (in London) in 1698 (below).

A major development occurs in the Choregraphie of Pierre Beauchamps (and published by Raoul Feuillet, and known perhaps unfairly as the”Feuillet System”), which instituted a floor plan of sorts, showing the movement of the feet by symbol and viewed from . As better described by the Library of Congress site: “Feuillet’s procedure was analytical; he broke up the steps into their mechanical parts, invented symbols for each of those parts, and organized them temporally by bars on the progression line. These bars reflect the temporal sequence of the steps according to the musical score.” (The Feuillet illustration is below.)

The view from above, or bird’s-eye view, was replaced in one 19th century system of annotation with stick figures, which were viewed from the front. Again, from the Library of Congress: . “In his Stenochorégraphie, published in Paris and St Petersburg in 1852, Arthur Saint-Léon used a scheme consisting of five horizontal lines for the movements of the legs and one additional line for the actions of the upper body. The figurative notation signs appear directly above the musical score, relating them approximately to the musical values.”
Movement was also recorded on whatr appears to be a musical template, using bars an staffs and musical-note-like notation to record movement, which seems to hjave possessed a more lyrical quality, with the potential for capturing more of the movemente than foot arrangements and speed of motion. The Library of Congress writes about this in reference to the system of Vladimir Stpeanov’s 1892 Alphabet du Corps Humain, “…Procedures of sound notation are transferred to movement notation: addition (a movement is, just like a musical sound, the sum of several elements) and duration (the temporal value of a movement is indicated by the time value of the note). described the human body within a scheme consisting of nine lines, divided into three parts. The top two lines are used for the movements of the head and torso, the three middle lines indicate the actions of the arms, and the bottom four lines the movements of the legs. The position of the tail of a note indicates whether the movement concerns the left or the right body part: for the left parts, the tail is directed upwards, for the right parts, it is directed downwards. “

In 1910 Vaclav Nijinsky published a very similar system of notation to Stepanov, using the basic template and then adding five more lines to the figure to denote movements throughout the core of the body.

It seems to me that the greatest pre-WWII advancements in all of this is Kinetography Laban (and afterwards known as Labanotation), which belongs to Rudolf von Laban, who seems to have incorporated movement of the feet, the body, the head, arms, as well as expression and speed, as well as relating it all to music in his own (famous) writing system. I call again on the authorless Library of Congress work on dance notation to for a superior and extended description of the notation:

“Kinetography, and Labanotation use geometrical shapes as symbols that indicate not only directions, but also specific levels and duration. Direction symbols modify the basic rectangular shape and show the directions forwards/backwards and left/right as well as the diagonal directions in between; the shading of the shape indicates the direction upwards/downwards, and its length shows duration. The body is represented within a vertical system from behind that is to be read from the bottom of the paper towards the top: following the central line, the right side of the dancer is also the right side of notation. The central line represents the vertical centre line of the body, and also the progression of the movement. Next to this line, on both sides, there are the columns for all movements transferring weight. The body parts themselves are identified by particular symbols. Their various movements are observed and notated separately and then synchronized in the notation score.”

This post would somehow seem incomplete without at least mentioning the contrary to this notation–the warnings by some religions that The Dance itself would lead humans directly to Hell. So, not only should people not have recorded dance, but they shouldn’t be dancing in the first place. OR thinking about dancing, for that matter.

The article that I have quoted from here is found HERE.

Some other interesting, and beautiful alternative means of writing in regard to recording dance include:


Wilson, Thomas dancing master; An analysis of country dancing: wherein are displayed all the figures ever used in country dances, in a way so easy and familiar, that persons of the meanest capacity may in a short time acquire (without the aid of a master) a complete knowledge of that rational and polite amusement. To which are added, instructions for dancing some entire new reels; together with the rules, regulations, and complete etiquette of the ball room. By T. Wilson … Embellished and illustrated with engravings on wood, by J. Berryman; London, Printed by W. Calvert, to be had to Mr. Dutton [etc.] 1808

Nvove inventioni di balli; opera vaghissima nella quale si danno i giusti modi del ben portar la vita, et di accommodarsi con ogni leggiadria di movimento alle creanze et gratie d’amore. Convenevoli a tutti i cavalieri, & dame, per ogni sorte di ballo, balletto, & brando d’Italia, di Spagna & di Francia. Con figure … in rame et regole della musica et intavolatura quali si richieggono al suono et al canto. Divisa in tre trattati …Blogwritingdanceitalian_note


JF Ptak Science Books LLC Post #97

The fabulously over-usage of light-polluting electricity in advertising finds its beginning 220 years ago with the work of a modest, family-friendly French country priest. The image to the left is the first example of writing via electricity—basically, the basis for the earliest electric signs, more than 110 years before Edison’s ( et alia ) electric incandescent bulb, and about twenty years before the presumptive “first” electrical experiments of Sir Humphrey Davy )on the first arc/carbon filament electrical light in 1809). They were the product of the electrical mind of Jean-Antoine Nollet (1700-1770), a peasant boy who was educated for the priesthood (becoming Abbe), whose extensive curiosity soon led him to physics and then to electricity—he was well educated and taught at numerous prestigious schools, admitted to the Academy of Sciences as a member in 1742, finally winding up in 1740 tutoring the dauphin at Versailles.. He published widely, was the first person to experiment with the Leyden jar in

France, and made wide contributions in the conduction of electricity through different media. (He also had numerous public disagreements, some of which stood with Benjamin Franklin, whose theories Nollet referred to as “les pretenetions de l’ecole de Philadelphie”. The image was published in Leçons de physique expérimentale, in Paris by Durand, 1783-84.

The, um, adventurous PT Barnum contracted the first electric bulb writing (utilizing the Edison invention) in Manhattan in 1892 to envious attention, resulting in less than 15 years with the Great White Way. The world’s largest electric bulb writing was on the Eiffel Tower, with Andre Citroen agreeing to light the outline of the tower if he could put his name on the rest of it. I’m not sure how this was seen as a good idea, but the sides of the tower were used for this purposes until somebody wised up and put an end to it all in 1937
But as white and as bright as the light bulb was in advertising, it was completely overwhelmed by the invention of the bold, brassy (and with a high potential “trashy” factor) neon sign, which was first used in the United States by Earle Anthony’s Packard dealership in Los Angeles in 1924.Bloglightingpackard_2

(Mr. Anthony paid $24,000 1924 dollars for the two “Packard” signs, which in today’s dollars, employing the kindest inflation factor in the comparative CPI, would be about $3,000,000. Mr. Anthony could afford it, and the signs were a sensation.

JF Ptak Science Books LLC

Trithemius’ Volvelle (also called a wheel chart, which is a type of slide chart, being a paper constructions with rotating part(s), usually fixed one to the other with just small pieces of paper).

Continuing on an earlier post on Trithemius’ beautiful title page , I’d like to look at some beautiful images of ciphers—writing systems that were meant to obliterate the original meanings of an original though so that it could be passed along in privacy and confidence—and I’m not referring (initially) to a graduate student’s masters on post-modernist post-structuralism, just to secret writing systems.


Continuing with Trithemius we’ll look at a relative simple cipher—uncommon alphabets. The Theban alphabet is a writing system of distant and mostly unknown origins. It was first published in Trithemius’ Polygraphia (1518), in which it was attributed to Honorius of Thebes. Trithemius’ student Agrippa (1486-1535) attributed it to Pietro d’Abano (1250-1316). [1] It is also known as the Honorian Alphabet or the Runes of Honorius
after the legendary magus (Theban is not, however, a runic alphabet), or the Witches’ Alphabet due to its use in modern Wicca and other forms of witchcraft as
one of many substitution ciphers to hide magical writings.


In John Falconer’s Cryptomenysis Patefacta; or, The Art of Secret Information Disclosed without a Key (published in London, by Daniel Brown, in 1685) Among such signs and gestures Falconer includes Egyptian heiroglyphs and finger alphabets (dactylology), as well as this example of a bi-lateral alphabet:

Giovanni Battista Della Porta (1535?-1615), one of the founders of modern cryptology, wrote an encyclopedic work on ciphers and deciphering in De Fvrtivis Literarvm Notis. (Naples, Joa. Maria Scotus, 1563)—one of the great and most well-known ciphers in this work was the series of twelve alphabet ciphers in which the meanings of the letters of the second half of the alphabet are reversed to stand as the first half.


This image (below) is found in Bacon’s De Augmentis Scientiarum, and shows the two
alphabets as designed by him for the purpose of his cipher. Each capital and small
letter has two distinct forms which are designated "a" and "b". The biliteral system
did not in every instance make use of two alphabets in which the differences were as
perceptible as in the example here given, but the two alphabets were always used;
sometimes variations are so minute that it requires a powerful magnifying glass to
distinguish the difference between the "a" and "b" types of letters.é.

Prodromo all’Arte Maestra.
Brescia, Rizzardi, 1670

Terzi was a polymath who interests spilled over in every direction—he thought in big terms (on flying machines and aeronautics) and little (devising new micrscopes and writing on the proper uses of the instrument), large civil engineering problems and mechanical engineering in general, not to mention such diversifie attention spent on the problems of hearing and speech, proposing methods for the blind to read and the deaf to speak.


John Wilkins’ Mercury the Secret and Swift Messenger (published anonymously (of course!) in 1641) was basically seen to be a warning to the Crown that secret messages could be easily and not-so-discretely passed along by th perpetraitors of Cromwell’s Rebellion—something that was not generally seen as being part of the arsenal of a combatant party. As noted by Lois Potter in Secret Rites and Secret Writing Royalist Literature 1641-1660. (Cambridge, 1989)

"The very existence of a science of cryptology was not taken seriously at least on the royalist side until very late. Hence even when a packet of royalist correspondence was seized in 1658 the authors did not think themselves in danger since ‘every Person’s Letter was written in a distinct Cypher and that contrived with great Thought.’ Until someone showed them their own letters in a deciphered state the conspirators simply did not believe that it was possible for anyone to perform such a feat"
ALSO see this site.

Though largely based on the earlier works of Trithemius and Selenus, Wilkins did, among other creations in this book, have quite a lot to say on the musical cipher, a very small and non-complex version of which follows as an example:

“Where the 5 Vowels are represented by the minnums on each of the five Lines being most of them placed according to their right Order and Consequence only the letters K. and Q. are left out because they may be otherwise expressed … By this you may easily discern how two Musicians may discourse with one another by playing upon their Instruments of Musick as well as by talking with their Instruments of Speech.”
Musical ciphers can be just a simple impossibility—they can conceal a cryptogram without changing a composition in any way.

Derrida and Reverse Cryptology

These are all fine examples of images of cryptographic systems, which is really all I wanted to look at here. The reach of cryptotology into other disciplines is wide an deep, though I ‘d like to point out one example in literature in which there is a cyrpto-like effect resulting from an attempt at clarity. There are many examples of the use of cryptology as the basis for a novel– The Gold Bug, by Edgar Allan Poe; The Adventure of the Dancing Men, a Sherlock Holmes story by Conan Doyle; Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson
R. Harris’ Enigma; William Gibson’s Neuromancer, and Ken Follett’s Key to Rebecca are just a few examples. But seldom does there occur a cryptographic-like result from an attempt at clarity–this found in the work of Jacques Derrida. It is perhaps fitting that in a recently rediscovered catalog of the curiosity dealers Wiltin & Wanton (of Ashreville, North Carolina) there was discovered M. Derrida’s own "cheat sheet" to his own impossible vocabularly. We attach it here:

Jacques Derrida’s 10-Second Intellectual Monster-Turning Travel Kit of Wordy Words

"Monsters cannot be announced.
One cannot say: ‘here are our monsters’,
without immediately turning the monsters into pets
”—JD, 1979

“Words are nothing
and nothing is nothing,
then double nothing is words
—JD, 1982

Jacques Derrida, Algerian-born philosopher and non-historian, came into prominence in America with his critical approach or methodology or philosophy of deconstruction.. In the areas of philosophy and literary criticism alone, Derrida has been cited more than 14,000 times in journal articles over the past 17 years; more than 500 US, British and Canadian dissertations treat him and his writings as primary subjects.
Owing to a monstrous schedule of speaking and writing it leaves little to wonder how M. Derrida infused his confusing private vocabulary. The mystery was partially solved in 1996 when an attaché case was discovered in M. Derrida’s vacated Muncie (Indiana) hotel room. Mysteriously the name tag on the old valise was that of Justice Louis M. Brandeis, but inspection of its contents revealed additional documents naming the owner as “:Mine” and “Jacques Derrida”. The valise, originally tied together with 150-year old paper, was filled with inscrutably marked papers-in-progress as well as notebooks written in non-discernable French and heavily ill-written English. Of the highest interest though was the “Word Machine” taped to the lid of the attaché, the contents of which we outline below.

Taped to the machine was the following note in which Derrida writes of himself in the third-person:

The Hydra has many heads. You will not be able to choose between this one on the one hand, on the other that. And the play of differences between the right and the left hand that Jacques Derrida insists on in writing about Heidegger’s hand disrupts the demonstrability of the properly human as the being of pointing or monstration: Hands, that is already or still the organic or technical dissipation. Nonetheless, what is pointed out or towards, what may even be handed to you (t)here is an alpha-bête, an ABC of deconstruction and Derrida, a monstrous beginning, written without hands, and with the help of many hands.

Below we offer the monster’s tool of arranging and affecting words into being.
Assume that others will be confused by incorporating any combination of three-word phrases from the following constructions—just choose any one word from each of the three columns, put them together, and— voila—you’ve got the vocabulary that will confuse and delight your associates in the occasional way that Derrida did.

“Meanings have some when their infused with the infusion of applicable privilege falsehoods which heterogenate the stratagem dilemmas of truth strangleholds. Incipient speech sensates the implied messaging of meaning of words; we and I mean to retrend those meanings discursive into their logocentric signs or irrelevant relationships. That is my journey, and by journey I don’t mean journey.” –JD, 1972

For Deconstructionism, employ one word from each column

Alternate Privilege Sign
Structural Truth Relationship
Logocentric falsehood privilege
Hierarchical Communication Language
Phenomenological stability Strategem
Discoursive Dictible heterogeneity
Sensate Didactic Dilemma

So, for example:
“The hierarchical didactic privilege…”

For Post-structuralism,

Hypenable Structural Discourse
Lexic Metalanguage Signifier
Readerly Semiotic Strata
Writerly Proairetic Code
Non-being Internal Opticon
Interdisparity Semic Literaticity
French Structural Observata
Barthe- Bastioned Postulatorium

Hence, for example, using the above we can concoct:

“when reading the journals last night I took issue with the writerly semic observata of the….”
“The French semic observata of the …..”
and so on, forever, into the night, with no one being the caring wiser, or wanting to be. It is sometimes easier to hide something in plain sight, especially in an encoded system like Derrida, where the self-referential bits allude to other items which have no common base for understanding–therefore when something is hidden in reference to something else that has no meaning, then, well, the "meaning" part is up for grabs, and so one is necessarily wrong, or right.

Blogtypewriter_unwriter_2035JF Ptak Science Books LLC Post #53

Sometimes order brings disorder; and disorder, order, as in the following two examples of early versions of modern technology. Take the typewriter—it has a curious display of the alphabet, designed to impede, while numbers are displayed along the tip, in order. (The qwerty system may well have been put into place as the earliest typewriters, beginning even with Glidden and Sholes machine, could not absorb very fast typing due to their technical limitations, and so came the qwerty arrangement.) So from this non-random arrangement we are able to direct all of our thoughts and intentions.


(An interesting aside is this magnificent non-qwerty machine, found in F. von Knauss’ Selbstschreibende Wundermaschinen… (1780), a magnificent work on "wonder machines", and which is recognized as the first "typewriter".)

The other elegant machine is the cipher. In the beginning of its use the alphabet is usually properly arranged, and placement of letters and numerals is very clear and precise. The result however is anything but—the product being a beautiful randomness and a secure, secret language.

This illustration features a lovely volvelle (two or more pieces of paper arranged so that they may be turned one on top of the other) from Giambattista Della Porta’s De furitvis literarum notis vulgo…, printed in Naples in 1591. The volvelle was one part of the book which explained the art of steganogrpahy—the art of writing incomprehensibly except to those who possess the key—and was one of the most important works on the subject after the Polygraphia of Johannes Trithemius (This book was written in 1599, published in 1606 and condemned in 1609—ostensibly because the book was thought to be about the dark arts and black magic, though the offending volume, the third and last, was really a deeper work continuing on cryptography.)


This is another interesting paper volvelle device, called a rotularum, and can be found in P. Gasparis Schotti’s Schola Steganographia, and printed in 1680.


Closer yet to the order/disorder idea is the strip cipher, which begins the process of encoding with numerous aligned alphabets which are then put out-of-order to secure a deeper discontinuity between the original message and its encoded version.

A modern and imaginative version of a typewriter version of a cipher may be seen in Claes Oldenburg’s 1963 "Soft typewriter"–well, not really, but this may be the only time that I have a chance to use this illustration.