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LanguagePrintCritical dictionary


Maria Augusta Babo and José Augusto Mourão





The realm of inscription precedes the emergence of writing. If History, as concept and as subject, was formed through the cleavage introduced by writing, that cleavage is questioned today as the realm of the inscriptional existed already in Prehistory. Prehistoric art is legible/visible, as object of palaeontology, endowed with pragmatic, beyond aesthetic or sacred, dimensions.
Some anthropologists consider that, with the obvious exception of the emergence of language, the passage from a hereditary transmission to a transmission by inheritance is the major transformation carried out by Man. The first one, common to all living beings, stems from the genes. However, the specificity of Man today is given by his ability to transmit by inheritance. That inscription and building of an external and autonomous memory of the living is, by nature, dead and, being dead, descendible. The hand is the very operator of transcription between body and trace, trail of a gesture on an inscriptional surface. We are before a function of the trace - be it in writing, drawing or image - which consists in the appropriation of an open space, unconfigured or marginal, that begins to function as territory, owned space, or simply as route, channel, connection. The relief of the ground, owing to its salience, can emerge as an appeal to inscription. The pair vector/target induces a tensive structure that can be measured through two dimensions or valencies – the gradients of intensity and extension. In general, graffiti can be read as that appropriation of space transformed into territory. Also the signature marks and demarks a space through an act which is, beyond inscription, a performing act. This is still the case of tattoo, a mark which chooses the body itself, making it a symptom of subjectiveness.         
Writing, as a particular system of inscription, stems from that constitutive autonomy of the archive, a transmissible legacy. The diversity of documents/monuments we deal with today shapes our individual and social stand. We are also the fruit of that textual inheritance. On the other hand, writing is, at its origin, connected to law, to the foundation of a socio-political order which introduces social, hierarchical cleavages, besides imbuing the text with a monologic meaning from which it will only free itself in the modern epoch. As graphic reason, it connects the registry of the word to the emergence of the number and even of calculus. Distinct from orality as event, writing organizes the iterative of the order of rhythm and repetition. The same way it is admitted that the origin of languages does not lie in a unique language, writing also welcomes multiple varieties and variations, from the ideogram to alphabetic writing, from calligraphy to the type/tupos.
As mediation, writing opens up in a double function that stems from an apparent contradiction. It does not renounce to its technical, external, social character, even if it works or if it elaborates on symbolic devices of discursive nature. It allows us to think that intermediate place, neither totally instrumental nor totally subjective, that is mediation. It operates constant transactions and transitions between the rational and the emotional, between the exteriority of technique and the reflexive experience. In that aspect, it is a powerful producer of meaning as well as of its own interpretants. 
In a broad sense, all trace, as signal, refers to the physical world and, as such, is placed outside the sign system which is language. The different figuresthe mark can assume, given its salience and pregnancy, can be legible. There are three aspects to be considered in the markas evidence. First, it is the result of the action of a body on an imprinting surface. Second, if this index can share with the object of which it is a mark its character of resemblance, it is also an icon. Third, the relation between mark as text and mark as image can be that of an alternate dependency in the pair caption/illustration: while in illustration image is subordinated to text, in caption text submits to image as its interpretant.    
However, from the moment mark changes to name(for instance, first name), it is already symbolic: it becomes iterative indepedently from the referent and meaning or to the intention of meaning. It is from the notions of distinctive mark that representation opens that cleavage between image (of the order of resemblance) and language (of the order of difference), establishing the imaginary before the symbolic. It is the economy of language – not word – that leads to the reality of things. Words only make sense through their position in a field of forces. Sedimentation and transformation processes of discursive forms - which the use of socio-cultural communities fixes under the form of types, stereotypes, clichés or schemes - are deposited in the system where enunciation convenes them before new uses, in turn, replace them with new stereotypes. In common sense, the world of language is more connected to the sound sphere than to registry. Stylistic traits, on the other hand, are of verbal, visible or sound nature and their recurrence (or absence) allows us to establish the authorship of any written piece.
However, beyond its intrinsic nature, the sign is always a sign to someone, therefore its communicating dimension. As it is, first and foremost, an operator of representation, its condition could be merely reduced to the replacement of the thing. However, its dimension of interpreter is always possible. The code is the association of two systems of different nature: a signifier system and a signified system. We live in a world of signs which covers the signs of the natural world (or of expression) and the artificial signs (or of communication). Nature (the world, the cosmos, reality) also reveals itself through semiotic processes. In the rhetoric of proofs – in abduction, for example – it is important to highlight the pair truth/verisimilitude, the latter being pure resemblance. The verediction act leads to sharing a universe of beliefs. On the other hand, evidences connect the presence or absence of an object to possible attitudes of their probable owner. If imprint is considered evidence, proof and individual signature, patina appears as the perfect example of a non-subjective index. Many other figures are considered stylisations: those governed by strong codes, such as coats of arms or signboards; or those based on weaker codes, such as “symbols” or precepts, among which the so-called “archetypes” (mandala, Chinese swastika). We can view these phenomena as emblems of the world, i.e. as elements of interoceptive code, through the work of the memory which converts sensitive signs into immemorial insignia.
Maria Augusta Babo
José Augusto Mourão
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