Fleming 2001

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Fleming, Juliet. Graffiti and the Writing Arts of Early Modern England. London: Reaktion Books, 2001.

"As far as I am concerned, a 'text' is a piece of writing that has been established as such for reasons that are themselves material, historical, and ideological. The notion of a 'text' represents the assumption that a certain form of consciousness has been able to dictate the terms of its own material constraints, and consequently remains, in some crucial sense, unbound. It is for this reason, of course, that the 'text' earns its privileged status as a register through which the mind may express itself freely. But my own project is engaged with the other end of the expressive spectrum, where matter appears to bind thought -- where, for example, an inscription may take the form of the implement on which it appears." (12-3)

Puttenham, The Arte of English Poesie; how visual shapes affect poetic interpretations; line of poetry as "visual as well as an aural unit" for Puttenham and his contemporaries -- poems as "ocular representations" (18); "With Renaissance poetry, on the other hand, the eye is granted equal importance, and the visual dimensions of language ... are accorded an affective and cognitive consequence as familiar to Renaissance readers as it has since become strange" (19)

posy: "fully material, visual mode" of poetry "as it exists in its moment, at a particular site"; is portable "precisely because it has not achieved, and does not hope to achieve, the immaterial, abstracted status of the infinitely transmissible text" (20)

not Marxist materialism but more "traditional materialism that pits consciousness directly against matter" (21)

"To use this register is to return to an intellectual moment -- that of the English Renaissance -- which lacked a systematic bifurcation between real and thought objects, and consequently apprehended matter not as that which is deprived of meaning but as a principle of structure that underpins all meaning." (21)

Foucault 1970, Renaissance episteme in which words are things, bearing hidden signatures (23); "the reduction of the visible world to a two-dimensional writing surface" (24); "fundamental synesthesia" (25); no difference betwen painting and writing, writing on paper or on a way, body or axe, "no difference, finally, between writing and other visual patterns" (25)


no term for graffiti in early modern English, "a fact suggesting not so much that the vice was unknown, but that the activity was not distinguished from other writing practices, and not yet considered a vice" (33)

"graffiti is over-determined as the medium of the socially disaffected, for, within a culture that discounts matter as that which has no meaning, graffiti will always appear to be the mark of a human subjectivity that survives and protests its own radical dispossession." (41)
"Operating on a natural world divinely marked for human notice, and dealing with truths it understands to be already extant, early modern writing is readily perceived by its practitioners as tending towards non-subjectivity -- that is, towards a writing that requires no subjective position of enunciation." (41)
"the Elizabethans understood reading and writing differently, as procedures for the gathering, storage and redeployment of well-framed wisdom. Within suc ha regimen, writing is that which frames truth to catch the eye or memory: like the stylistic devices of brevity or ornament, writing can, in and of itself, add weight to a sentence. While the advent of print technology (like the invention of the phonetic alphabet) is usually understood to be coterminous with, if not identical to, an increase in intellectual and technological abstraction, to the early modern English it may rather have represented a mode of materializing thought more densely." (44)
"Elizabethan writing embraced its status as a material thing" (46)

commonplace books; "as likely to have been read off, as written on to, windows and walls" (48)

whitewashed domestic as "the primary scene of writing in early modern England" (50)

wall-painting as calligraphic (61)

Luther imagined painting the whole Bible on inside/outside of houses "so that all can see it" (65)


Freud, "Note upon the Mystic Writing Pad" (1924); Derrida's reading of it

Protestants blotting the name of the Poper from the page "is to produce a blot as that name"

"writing can be permanently retained, or regularly erased -- but not on the same surface" (76)

  • "the whitewashed wall is a writing apparatus not entirely governed by the tension between these two functions" (76)


affront and arouse the liberal subject -- power of horror coinciding with Kristeva's "abjection" (81)

  • identity constituted not in the depths but on the outer surface
  • can individuality survive certain modes of representation? (82)
  • for Kristeva, "the abject is a boundary phenomenon" (83)
"To tattoo is precisely to 'decorate' the surface, to produce the skin as surface, to apprehend the contours of the body as that which vacillates between the psychic and the material." (83)
"Lodged on the border between inside and outside, the tattoo occupies the no-place of abjection." (84)
"This figure [of abjection] may be variously thought of as one that is all surface, or one whose inside is also its outside. As a creature of the surface, a tattoo is an example of the first: as a disturbance to that surface, it is an instance of the second." (85)

we think the British didn't tattoo themselves during the early modern period; but shows us to be descendants of a form of thought for which "tattoo is visible as the mark of an ethnic status we have long claims, as a nation, to have outgrown" (110)


Stephen Greenblatt's definition of "literature" in Marvellous Possessions" as texts doing "playful" imaginative work

however, some "texts" -- like pots -- do imaginative playful work but aren't "literature"

"Rather than seeking to re-situate these practices as literature, my aim is to demonstrate that, in even its most anti-essentialist mode, the category of 'literature' works to limit (albeit in sometimes productive ways) our understanding of the writing of the past." (114)
"I want to argue for the existence and consequence, in early modern England, of a writing practice which was understood not as an inscriptional art, but as an inscriptional action whereby the intelligence of the maker registered itself in matter." (114) -- collapse between the sensible and the intelligible on which writing usually depends (Derrida, "graphology") -- "Within the practices i seek to describe writing has meaning in excess both of its signified content, and of its easily recognized aesthetic dimensions -- a meaning that has to do with the fact of its appearance in matter." (115)

room for uncertainty as to what writing is (117); "even in the case of the cultural traditions and systems with which we are familiar, we do not know where and when writing begins" (117) -- writing mediates consciousness and the material world while participating in both

Puttenham, role of devices (121-3)

early modern interest in occult, magic; anagrams; seen as both belief and unbelief (127-9)

"Fire-writing (and equally, thought differently, graffiti writing) will strike eve na modern sensibility as instances of writing uncannily caught in the act of its own appearance. But in early modern England, writing in any of its media could appear as an act of autofiguraation -- as, that is, a delineation that closed the gap between material signifiers and ideational signifieds in the experience of signification itself." (133)

linearization has imposed itself as the norm (Derrida; 134)

"In truth, hte linear norm is opposed, as well as confirmed, by that particular organization of intellectual space that Derrida takes to be its greatest triumph. For the printed book represents not only a peculiar infolding of space, but one whose 'linearity' is achieved by the disordering and regathering of lines. To compile a book is to reorganize the linearization of thought and writing that went into the composition of the text in the first place: it is to reverse, cut and fit lines to the design of the page; and to assemble those designs (half of them inverted0 out of numerical order on the printer's block. The linear form that results from this process -- the printed book -- thus represents less linearization as such, than the imposition of linearity as a graphic norm" (135)

early modern nosegay as a writing practice (136); hair bracelets (143); fuddling cup (147)

"Speaking crockery is thus more than a conceited literalization of the most common metaphor for mortality, for it proposes a continuity not only between clay and flesh, but also between shaped clay and the deep structures of human cognition." (151)

writing on pots/cups as writing in three dimensions; "Forever in the act of vanishing, or re-appearing, around a curve, such writing makes explicit the role of the materiality of space within the act of understanding." (158)

use value vs. exchange value