The Research Training Group "Notational Iconicity": On the materiality, perceptibility and operativity of writing at Freie Universität Berlin, funded by Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG), aims to investigate a topic that is of central importance in the humanities: the concept of writing in the extended sense of notational inscription. Its objective is to contribute to a change of perspective from a phonographic, language-based concept of writing to an iconographic, language-neutral concept.
While writing has tended to be regarded simply as a means of recording spoken language (particularly within the horizon of “occidental alphabetocentrism”), we believe that it is important to consider the dimensions of notation that make writing more than merely a medium used to record spoken utterances. When, for instance, people go about such activities as writing calculations, correcting texts, dealing with scientific formulas, drafting diagrams or writing musical compositions; in the practice of concrete poetry, programming, but also in writing games like crossword puzzles, palindromes and anagrams, these activities cannot adequately be described by recourse to spoken language. Moreover, non-European, non-alphabetic systems of writing reveal a distinctively iconographic potential. The Research Training Group thus aims to contribute to overcoming a concept of writing/notation that is not only reduced to phonography but also too narrowly Eurocentric. Our leading hypothesis is that writing is best conceived as a hybrid form, combining discursive (language) and iconic (image) characteristics; and that this is true for both alphabetical and non-alphabetical systems of notation.
With a view to bringing to light the explorative and creative potential of writing, the Research Training Group will investigate the connections between visibility and usability, between the aisthetical and operational potentiality of forms of notation in scientific and artistic, everyday, playful and religious practices. With the guiding concept of “notational iconicity”, its focus is upon the relation between writing/notation and its iconic nature. Although within various disciplines, preliminary attempts have been made to reconstruct aspects of notational practices that go beyond language, as yet no attempt has been made to draw these interdisciplinary research orientations together and to analyse them conceptually and programmatically. The proposed Research Training Group aims to do just that by means of a collaboration between researchers from thirteen different academic disciplines in the Berlin-Potsdam area.
The program will start October 1st, 2008.