Words on the Page conference

Words on the Page

Words on the Page and the Meanings Beyond: The Innovative Interpretation of Manuscripts
25 April 2012 to 26 April 2012

In early March 2012, I successfully submitted an abstract to the Wordsworth Trust to present a paper at the conference Words on the Page and the Meanings Beyond: The Innovative Interpretation of Manuscripts. A copy of this abstract can be found on the right hand side of this page as a downloadable PDF. The Trust described the aims of the conference as follows:

 

The Wordsworth Trust is undertaking research into the innovative use of manuscripts to further engagement and learning ... As well as facilitating a greater understanding of a person’s life and creative process through analysis of a text (poetry, prose, correspondence, etc) the aim of the conference is to explore meanings within a manuscript and its history that go beyond interpretation of the words on the page.  

 

Creating an understanding of a manuscript’s emotional value to its contemporaries (for its content, but also as an object in itself) is essential to understanding its importance today, and its physicality can be as significant as its content when doing so.  The formality of the handwriting for example, or the nature of underlinings and deletions, as well as the circumstances of its composition, its purpose and its intended audience, provide a sense of direct access to its author and emotional engagement with the historical figures with which the manuscript is associated.   

During the conference (and as a part of my paper), I showed new visual work linking text and image that explored, in detail, entries from the original manuscripts (held by the Trust) of the diaries of Dorothy Wordsworth, exploring her phenomenological referencing of flora, fauna, weather and landscape. This is an area of visual and academic research that is relatively unexplored territory – a considerable amount of work has been written about William Wordsworth’s relationship to the philosophy of phenomenology[1], but not Dorothy’s. There is a link to youtube on the right hand side of this page with a video of my presentation at the conference. There is also a PDF of the report produced by the Arts Council about both the conference and the larger project of which the conference was a part.

 

This was a tremendous conference both in scope and originality. There was a generosity of spirit that ran throughout the two days and stimulated discussion across a range of disciplines. I have attached a copy of the powerpoint I gave at the conference as a downloadable PDF on the right hand side of this page.

 

The images below (which I showed at the conference) explore the idea developed by writers such Coleridge and Wordsworth that there Is a specific relationship between the word used to describe an object or thing and the object itself – a poetic, embodied relationship. Coleridge believed that ‘words can embody and not just stand for thoughts and things’ … and he ‘puts his faith in words as “living things” – as plants, as live bodies: “The focal word has acquired a feeling of reality – it heats and burns, makes itself be felt. If we do not grasp it, it seems to grasp us, as with a hand of flesh and blood, and completely counterfeits an immediate presence, an intuitive knowledge’ [2]

 

My proposition here is that the hand-written texts (letters/journals etc) by the poets (in my case by Dorothy Wordsworth) are themselves an expressive and embodied ‘response’ to the things they describe – and indeed that individual letters have a special quality that is related to the environment in which they are written (in DW’s case, the Lake District). In the first series of works here, I have isolated individual letters from DW’s Journal and ‘created’ words from the journal running vertically on blocks of colour. The texts are as follows.

 

A beautiful morning

Cuckow

Silverhow

Thursday 29th April 1802

A sound of water in the air

 

 

Gowbarrow

Misty morning

Daffodils

Thursday 15th April 1802

The wind seized our breath

 

 

Hail showers

Thrush singing

Wytheburn

Monday 17th May

Snow and Cold Attacked Me

 

In the second series of images I have worked directly and intuitively OVER the image/text of the journal. Here, however, I am responding not just to the words on the page, but to the PLACE the words describe – as I have walked these landscapes many times


 


[1] See, for instance, Broglio, Ron. 2008. Technologies of the Picturesque. New Jersey. Bucknell University Press (Chapter 3, Wordsworth and the Phenomenology of Place)


[2] Ed Curran, S. 1993 British Romanticism (the Cambridge Companion to). Cambridge. Cambridge University Press.