I read an eye opening book over the last few days thanks to the recommendation of Helen Carnac.
Its rare for me to describe a book of theory as a ‘page turner’. Very rare! But this is one.
Professor Ingold, Scottish professor of social anthropology, takes us on an anything but brief journey through the cultural history of humankind exploring ‘the interface between anthropology, archaeology, art and architecture’. Arguing along the way for the centrality of the line in human culture; as the wellspring of drawing, writing, music and wayfaring. He refines some widely used but until now poorly defined terms such as trace and thread – making the wonderfully esoteric but clearly argued assertion that ‘Threads may be transformed into traces, and traces into threads. It is through the transformation of threads into traces … that surfaces are bought into being. And conversely, it is through the transformation of traces into threads that surfaces are dissolved.’
He also coins the useful term ‘meshwork’ in contrast to ‘network’ – a web of interconnected pathways as opposed to a series of links connecting distinct hubs.
Along the way there are some wonderful yarns, propositions and perspectives. Such as, ‘old Khanty stoytellers would keep going in the evenings until everyone else was asleep, so that no one would ever know how their stories really finished’ – sounds like one of my classes at CCA! Quoting Bayarea icon and theorist of wandering Rebecca Solnit ‘To write is to carve a new path through the terrain of the imagination, or to point out new features on a familiar route. To read is to travel through that terrain with the author as a guide … I have often wished that my sentences could be written out as a single line running into the distance so that it would be clear that the sentence is likewise a road and reading is travelling.’
It is this vibrant, hand drawn, visceral and physical line that Ingold argues has provided and marked our pathway through existence. The line that, as Kandinsy said, ‘goes for a walk’.
The final chapter is entitled ‘How the line became straight’ – love the double meaning. Ingold argues that by constraining and restricting the line from the hand drawn trace to the straightly ruled (and ruled over) connector we lose something essential, something existential.
Highly recommended if you are interested in language, writing, calligraphy, music, singing, map making, pathfinding, drawing, weaving, reading or wandering. That sounds like everyone I know!