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The Origin of Writing

by John Barclay-Morton


Anametric Image Writing Isn't About Petroglyphs


In the course of a broader discussion concerning the relationships that hold between linguistic patterns of use and habitual patterns of thought, it is interesting to consider the degree to which those who use phonetic forms of writing are able (or unable) to initially grasp the ways in which anametric image writing functions.

With phonetic writing, written marks correspond to sounds of vocalization. These marks are combined to represent sound sequences for spoken words, which refer to distinct things. This process is called “signification,” whereby a “sign” (a “word” — the "signifier") stands for (“signifies”) something being referred to (a “signified”). The relationship between signifiers and signifieds is one of representation; and phonetic writing works through the correspondence between each sign’s word and its correlate object.

Anametric image writing does not work in this way. As a form of image writing, it functions through visual parameters, rather than through those that characterize the use of sound patterns in speech. It is all too easy for those who use phonetic forms of writing to imagine that a true image writing might use “pictograms” to represent words; but, that isn’t what happens here at all.

Anametric image writing is essentially generative in its basic functionality, rather than being representational.

Instead of single images (such as petroglyphs) standing for single words, composites of image elements generate concepts directly. This is where the field of philosophy — most properly, the study of how concepts are created — comes to the forefront in understanding how anametric image writing functions as a form of communication.

In point of fact, images do not function in the same way that signification — signs, such as words — does. Image writing unfolds through dynamics which are quite different than those which govern phonetic forms of speech. In seeking to understand how anametric image writing functions, we shall have to start from the ground up and be particularly mindful of the need to develop an understanding based within the materials we are working from, rather than through a preconception of what this form of writing might be — were it instead based within phonetic forms of writing. To this end, we would be well advised to start by drawing upon ideas which specifically pertain to the conceptual nature of images; such as, Jean-Paul Sartre's masterly analysis of "imaging consciousness" (released in 1940, and re-issued in 2004): The Imaginary: A phenomenological psychology of the imagination.

"These reflections bring us to pose the question of the relation of the image and the sign to their objects. For the sign, the object is clear: the sign consciousness as such is not positional… In every image, even in the one that does not posit its object as existent, there is a positional determination. In the sign as such this determination is lacking. From an object which functions as sign, a certain something is aimed at; but, of that something, one affirms nothing, one limits oneself to aiming at it. Naturally, this something is not manifest through the signifying matter: it is wholly beyond it."
Jean-Paul Sartre, "The Imaginary," page 23.

If we were dealing with a phonetic form of writing, we would be forced here to throw up our hands in despair; for, in the absence of the spoken language it conveys (or a translational equivalent), no phonetic form of writing can be deciphered — its signs are empty in and of themselves. But this is not the case with images — or with the simplified visual schema that constitute anametric image writing — which posit the matter of their content directly. Anametric image writing necessarily retains textures of experiential reference even in the absence of its associated spoken language(s):

"It is characteristic of the schema that it is intermediate between the image and the sign. Its matter demands to be deciphered. It aims only to present relations. By itself it is nothing."

"Through these black lines we aim not just at a silhouette, we aim at a complete man, we concentrate in them all his qualities without differentiation: the schema is full to bursting. To tell the truth, these qualities are not represented; in the proper sense, the black features do not represent anything but some relations of structure and attitude. But it is enough of a rudiment of representation for all the knowledge to be weighted down there, thus giving a kind of depth to this flat figure."

"The majority of schematic drawings are read in a definite sense. Eye movements organize the perception, carve out the spatial environment, determine the fields of force, transform the lines into vectors."
Jean-Paul Sartre, "The Imaginary," pages 29–30.

Schema — simple linear outlines presented as images of things — hold a very special place in consciousness. They are formed as if occupying a transitional middle ground between image and sign: they in effect trace the contours of a productive leap, from perception into thought. It is of their nature that schema compel this leap be taken: formed of eye movement tracing, schema are immediately filled with the lifetime of experience that has been neurally coded into memory through the dynamics of each person's eye movements. Even in sleep, our eyes trace the outlines of that which we are dreaming. And schema, "full to bursting" from perceptual experience, can compositionally extend the dynamic relationships they circumscribe: schema cause thought itself to form — as new thoughts not previously existing of the thinker's direct perception.

"The purely psychic ‘content’ of the mental image cannot escape this law: a consciousness that faces the thing that it aims at is a perceptual consciousness; a consciousness that aims emptily at the thing is a pure sign consciousness."
Jean-Paul Sartre, "The Imaginary," page 53.

"I could not accept a conception according to which the symbolic function would be added to the image from outside. It appears to me, and I hope to have made it somewhat obvious, that the image is symbolic in essence and in its very structure, that one cannot remove the symbolic function of an image without making the image itself vanish."
Jean-Paul Sartre, "The Imaginary," page 98.

As we begin to examine anametric image writing more closely, we shall find that very often the relational dynamics of an image's schematic composition will "aim emptily" at one of that image's key component elements, which is replaced by the schematic outline of something very different. In a face, for instance, the position of one eye might be taken by the image outline of an animal. Now, we all know that at no point in time has there ever been a person who actually had a mammoth where an eye should be; so, this would be an image which is not pointing to any actual thing: such a composite has transitioned away from being a simple image and into functioning as a sign. This is very basic type of visual modification immediately establishes the conditions necessary for us to demonstrate that we are not simply dealing with images here: in fact, we are looking at writing.

There is much of use and value in Sartre's writings for us to draw upon; but if we take nothing else away, one major point here must be remembered: images are positional, they posit things that exist and point to a fuller experience than they themselves capture and convey. Signs, such as words in phonetic forms of writing, are empty in this respect and do not carry such information with them: this must be learned, as systems of representational signification, with each sound sequence linked through learned experience with every word's usage patterns. If we do not know a spoken language, we can not decipher the meanings once conveyed through in its phonetic form of writing; but, this is not true of anametric image writing. Here, we can resolve image dynamics into compositional textures which directly teach us about existential relationships encountered long ago. There is much we can learn from such an image writing system, once we open ourselves to the realization that it functions in a way that is completely different from how phonetic forms of writing work.

Sartre's observation that "schema" — stylized outlines of images — are transitional between images proper and signs per say is crucial to us here. The distinction Sartre is making also proved crucial for philosophy, as a fundamental critique directed toward an unexamined assumption at the core of phenomenology: that the certainty which attends direct perception also holds true for mental images — which it does not (as Sartre demonstrated in his seminal work, "The Imaginary"). For our intentions, however, the fact that images do indeed point toward actually existing things — or imaginary things, such as imaging consciousness composes of elements drawn from images of existing things — is keynote for our understanding of how examples of anametric image writing can still convey information to us, even thousands and thousands of years after having been composed.

Because the image schema which compose this form of writing necessarily posit or point toward actual things of the world in which they were composed, we can immediately begin to determine the external consistencies for the concepts these image composites resolve. From the beginning, we are already halfway toward gaining an understanding of what this form of image writing conveys.

Because this form of image writing compositionally brings together elements from different images in assembling unique visual grouping patterns, we also have immediate access to the second half of what we need in order to understand how this form of image writing produces concepts directly: we can at once begin to trace the intentional differentials that distinguish each concept as being uniquely created.

Producing Image Composites as Concepts

Early example of image composites.

In any analysis of what concepts are, and how they function, the way in which the component elements of any concept are fused together is of foremost concern. And certainly, any such analysis must proceed within language.

Detail, early example of image composites.

However, it is the relationships holding between the internal components of any singular concept (it’s unique endoconsistency), and the concept's external relationships to the world in which it is created (its exo-consistency), that are of primary importance. The rendering of such components into inseparable, unique assemblages supersedes the significance of whichever language is being used to describe these processes. This end state of immanence defines the singular nature of any concept, precisely as the fusion of its internal components with its external relationships.
With anametric image writing, we are dealing directly with a compositional grouping of image elements into conceptual assemblages. At every stage of organizational complexity, we are also dealing with identifiable images and image outlines. With these, we are immediately placed where we can work directly with the conceptual structures produced by those who used anametric image writing. As the singular patterns of conceptual complexity created out of the lives of those people begin to accrete, we can begin to speak of “conceptual persona” for those who used anametric image writing. We may never find the words these people spoke, but, we can immerse ourselves immediately in the way they thought within their world.

In all of this, we are simply saying: however that long-ago world looked, whatever language spoken by the people living within it, we can begin here and now knowing at least that their eyes and our eyes both have both held a world around in regard. Today, we know much more about how eyes actually function; and this in itself gives us enough of a grounding that we may survey at least some of the thoughts which formed for those long-ago people of their surrounding world.

In knowing that images always posit objects, we can progress from the relations of structure and attitude revealed of schema through eye movement tracing, into the fields of forces and vectors that generatively assemble into unique conceptual composites. We can trace how thought forms its differential textures — and this puts us worlds ahead of simply keeping count of how many there are of this or that item of trade. This puts us immediately within writing, and it is a very different place than where accounting takes us.

Developmental Stages in the Historical Production of Anametric Image Composites

With rising agricultural production widely cited as a dominant factor for the invention of writing in the Middle East, it would stand to reason that other forms writing might also exhibit some relationship with production per say. And indeed, it can be clearly demonstrated that anametric image writing exists in a necessary relationship to a very specific form of production: the making of stone tools.

With stone serving as the indelible substrate upon which anametric image writing was inscribed, it is easy to see how technologies that were developed for the production of stone tools also served to inform the development of anametric image writing. From early examples of singular images, sculpted in a material epoch characterized by the one-off production of stone tools; through a transitional epoch wherein etched images shared an underlying substrate of continuity, even as stone blanks for tools were mass produced of sedimentary stone later separated by layer before being individually edged; to an end epoch of intricate image inscription and elaborate tool production technologies: as tools were produced of stone, so were concepts inscribed in stone.

Throughout these different epochs, the successful production of any stone tool demanded an intimately individualistic relationship between each tool maker and every stone they choose to work upon. This required a “close reading” of each stone’s surface, in the attempt to discern sub-surface properties of cleavage, balance, and resilience — in short, any and all material properties relevant to the creation of a viable stone tool.

Not surprisingly, such productive discernment inevitably engaged the memories and experiences of those who undertook to create stone tools; and as a result, a tradition evolved of inscribing traces of such memories upon stone, as images evocative of the lives led by those who made and used these stone tools.

Any extended and thorough study of anametric image writing will reveal — as would be expected of any kind of writing — that there is a very distinct and definite developmental evolution defining this form of writing's historical reality. And while much of this history may remain in contention for quite some time to come (as ever more examples are accumulated and studied), there really is no mystery concerning why it was invented in the first place — or why it continues to function as a form of communication, even to this day.

Later example of image writing composites.

A Fundamental World Heritage

What begins as an attempt to capture sculpted images of the world, progresses through the compilation of image outlines, into the intricate assemblage of image elements into complex textures that conceptually articulate experience. The growing complexity of anametric image writing over the course of its developmental history speaks of a refined elegance in conceptual prowess that is jarringly at odds with standard academic views regarding the cultural development of the First Nations in North America at the time of European contact. And yet, images of long extinct animals found within the most advanced forms of anametric image writing — short faced bears, North American lions, dire wolves, mammoths, and so on — attest to the fact that anametric image writing was fully developed at least 10,000 years Before the Christian Era; that is, at least 12,000 years ago.

Note that by this point in time, anametric image writing was already beginning to precipitate like-sized glyphic image areas (for example, consider the areas indicated by yellow arrows in the above photographs); and in this, anametric image writing may well hold (at the very least) the origins of such graphemic forms of writing as Chinese and Mayan scripts — neither of which resembles the other, but both of which bear some resemblance to anametric image writing.

Later example of image writing composites.

“Now, if one ceases to limit oneself to the model of phonetic writing, which we privilege only by ethnocentrism, and if we draw all the consequences from the fact that there is no purely phonetic writing (by reason of the necessary spacing of signs, punctuation, intervals, the differences indispensable for the functioning of graphemes, etc.), then the entire phonologist or logocentrist logic becomes problematic. Its range of legitimacy becomes narrow and superficial…

“It is a question… of producing a new concept of writing. This concept can be called gram or différance. The play of differences supposes, in effect, syntheses and referrals which forbid at any moment, or in any sense, that a simple element be present in and of itself, referring only to itself. Whether in the order of the spoken or written discourse, no element can function as a sign without referring to another element which itself is not simply present. This interweaving results in each “element” – phoneme or grapheme – being constituted on the basis of the trace within it of the other elements of the chain or system. This interweaving, this textile, is the text produced only in the transformation of another text. Nothing, neither among the elements nor within the system, is anywhere ever simply present or absent. There are only, everywhere, differences and traces of traces. The gram, then, is the most general concept of semiology – which thus becomes grammatology – and it covers not only the field of writing in the restricted sense, but also the field of linguistics. The advantage of this concept – provided that it be surrounded by a certain interpretive context, for no more than any other conceptual element it does not signify, or suffice, by itself – is that in principle it neutralizes the phonologistic propensity of the “sign,” and in fact counterbalances it by liberating the entire scientific field of the “graphic substance” (history and systems of writing beyond the bounds of the West) whose interest is not minimal, but which so far has been left in the shadows of neglect.

“The gram as différance, then is a structure and a movement no longer conceivable on the basis of the opposition presence/absence. Différance is the systematic play of differences, of the traces of differences of the spacing by means of which elements are related to each other.”
Jacques Derrida: “Positions”, pages 25-27.

Post-structural philosophers — such as Jacques Derrida, Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guattari, and Michel Foucault — developed radically new approaches to the study of human thought by pushing our understanding of language beyond where it had ever been before. Prior to their revolutionary work, the field of philosophy was dominated by what has been called "the linguistic paradigm" — the idea that, by studying the structures of language, we can understand the way thought works. However, this approach was very much determined by a study of specific and standardized types of languages — for the most part, established and heavily codified languages of an Indo-European heritage. In their meticulous critiques of the preconceptions carried within such an approach, the post-structuralists strove to established the study of language as a science in itself — semiology, as the study of signs — and to free thought from a subservience to language, by recognizing that not everything which occurs in thought finds expression within the accepted usage patterns of established linguistic conventions. A core principle of this approach was to abandon attempts at establishing "meaning," in favor of instead concentrating upon defining functionality.

At the same time that Continental schools of philosophy were developing post-structuralism, Anglo-American schools were themselves undergoing a shift away from philosophy's linguistic paradigm. Heralded by Richard Dawkins with his concept of "the selfish gene," these schools moved more toward developing a biological model of thought: mental events understood as neural processes. By and large, though, the final nail in the coffin of the linguistic paradigm came from an unexpected direction: the ascendency of computer coding and the development of digital languages, which in themselves demonstrated an economic utility that far exceeded the pragmatic value of any other field of linguistic study.

Still and all: between the radical deconstruction of the linguistic paradigm by the post-structuralist, and its displacement by the biological model, there is now a full suite of philosophic tools available for the study of anametric image writing — tools which do not demand acceptance of the preconceptions attending any linguistic paradigm based within (very specific families of) phonetic writing.

Of course, we cannot expect nothing to have happened in philosophy during the time between the primary texts of Jean-Paul Sartre, and those of Gilles Deleuze. But it is a testament to the genius of Sartre that, even the parts of his philosophic output that have been modified over the years still seem to firmly ground subsequent advancements in philosophic thought.

One case in point: Sartre describes the role of the schema using the neologism "presentifier". Building upon Sartre's critique of Edmund Husserl's phenomenological project, Jacques Derrida developed his own critique of Western Metaphysics' reliance upon a core temporal concept of "the present"; which, in turn, grounds the ubiquitous ontological status of being — presence. Derrida's critique, beginning with his analysis of Husserl's "The Origin of Geometry," introduces many new and vibrant concepts into post-structural analyses of language — and particularly, writing. Yet, in examining anametric image writing within the context of Sartre's analysis of schema, it is clear that the stage had already been set for this development.

Of particular note here is the fact that, in Deleuze and Guattari's description, the conceptual is composed in ways entirely consistent with how Sartre describes images as functioning within consciousness. As Sartre pointed out, images such as schema posit objects and present relations of structure and attitude that are resolved through eye movement tracing into fields of forces and vectors. This allows schema to function as transitional devices, bridging between image and sign; that is, between perception and thought. To resolve a schema is to product in thought a concept; and with Deleuze and Guattari, we can see how this proceeds further with anametric image writing: internal compositional relationships, in bringing together disparate image elements, establish "bridges" or "neighborhoods of event" linking directly to the external realities that each image in itself posits.

In addition, we know that the state of immanence — which by definition fuses the compositional elements of any concept together — has itself the characteristic of shifting across those elements, in such a way as to be present at any point being considered. This tells us that immanence as a principle will be directly implicated in the narrative structures that anametric image writing is supported by; and that we will be able to approach the grammatological structures which define anametric image writing through an understanding of how immanence as such functions within conceptual structures.