[ISEA94] Paper: Pierre Lévy – Toward Super Language


I am reading, you are reading, you are listening to a text. What is happening? First, the text is perforated, dashed out, strewn all over with blanks. They are the words, the members of the phrases, that we do not see (in both senses of the term, the perceptual and the intellectual.) They are the fragments of the texts that we do not comprehend, that we do not apprehend together, that we do not reunite with others, that we neglect. To the extent that, paradoxically, to read, to listen to, means to begin by neglecting, by misreading, or by untying the text.

At the same time that we tear it apart by the act of reading (or, like now, by listening to it) we crumple the text. We fold it upon itself. We bring together passages corresponding to each other. We sewtogether members scattered, disassembled, dispersed on the surface of the pages, or in the linearity of the discourse: to read a text is to retrace the textile gestures that have given it its name.

The passages of the text keep up a virtual correspondence, almost an epistolary activity that we realize, for better or for worse, following, or not following, the directions of the author. Letter carriers of the text, we travel from one end of the space of significance to the other, assisted by the addressing system, by the pointers, that the author, the editor, the typographer has laid out. But we can also disobey the directions, produce illegitimate folds, weave secret, clandestine nets, make appear other semantic geographies.

Such is the work of reading: this act of tearing apart, of crumpling, of distorting, of putting
the text back together, starting from the initial linearity, or platitude, to open up a living milieu
where significance may become unravelled. The space of significance does not exist prior to the
act of reading. It is by traversing it, by roaming in it, by charting it that we fabricate it.
But while we are bending it upon itself, thus producing its relation to itself, its autonomous
life, its semantic aura, we are also relating the text to other texts, to other discourses, to images,
to affects, to the immense reservoir pulsating with desires and signs in its totality that constitutes us. Here it is no longer the unity of the text at stake, but the construction of oneself, the construction that always has to be redone, never to be completed. It is no longer the sense of the text occupying us, but the direction and elaboration of our thought, the precision of our
picture of the world, the completion of our projects, the evocation of our pleasures, the string
of our dreams. This time the text is no longer crumpled, folded into a ball upon itself, but cut
out, powderized, distributed, evaluated according to the criteria of a subjectivity giving birth to

(translated from the French by Riikka Stewen)

  • Pierre Levy Born 1956. PhD’s in information and communication sciences and sociology Consulting on the topics of artificial intelligence, cognitive science, learning and computers, culture and digital revolution. Created Neurope Lab (European non-profit laboratory researching the ‘knowledge age’) and Trivium (software company that develops ‘knowledge trees’). Published many books, most recently Les arbres de connaissance (Editions La Découverte) and Les nouveaux outils de la pensée (Editions Descartes), 1992. Professor in information and communication sciences in the hypermadias dept. of the University of Paris at St. Denis.

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