In “Writing on Complex Surfaces,” John Cayley quotes Joan
Retallack: “The symbolic is always…a flatland in its relation to the
complex real.” I found the text performances assigned for this week to be
enjoyable to watch, and diverse in their approach to graphically
representing this “complex real.” Judd Morrissey’s “The Last Performance”
in particular, was very aesthetically pleasing, playful, and engaging. The
words, which swirled into the shapes of spiral galaxies, flattened out into
circles, and subdivided into smaller circles before overlapping and merging
again, seemed to enact the concurrence, propagation, and intersection of
possible meanings in a text. Morrissey animates and layers content in a
fractal-like repetition of forms. This technique seems to correspond with
Cayley’s insistence that new media convey the “complex relationships
between the symbolic realm of language and the world it dwells within,
represents and constitutes.”

In “The Last Performance,” the graphics seem to enact artistic
circles of intertextual exchange (for example, the names Milton, Robert
Creeley, and William Carlos Williams bump and collide), multiple points of
possible recombination (when a solitary word breaks from the circle’s
syntactic ordering and forms new connections) or the intersection of
meaning, (when words merge, become illegible, indistinguishable, and
ambiguity is heightened). These tactics visually enact Joan Retallack’s
“linguistic and cultural coastlines, interconversant edges of
past/present/future.” I was particularly interested in John Cayley’s
emphasis on media restoring temporality to textual works, reinvesting them
with historicity and process. He writes, “Time is arguably the most
important, necessary, and most neglected property of textuality. A complex
surface for writing allows time to be reinstated as integral to all
processes of writing and reading.”

In “The Last Performance,” the numbers tease us with the
possibility of sequentiality as letters explode and morph out of order once
more. Furthermore, the words challenge the reader to read faster - at the
circumference of the circle, they make sense syntactically, if read in
clockwise fashion. But the words break away to form new shapes too quickly;
the reader is afforded only a glimpse of a fragment of sense. The word
“end” bouncing around the inside of the closed circle of words mocks the
very idea of finality, of closure, totality, of finding a linear endpoint.
The “I,” as it follows a circular path around the extremities of a rotating
textual pinwheel, guides our eye and connects the words “falling,”
“descending,” and “perpendicular,” as if to map out a temporary reading
practice which will make the words make sense. The regular, paced linearity
of reading has been completely disrupted. Other phrases pop out at us,
whether they were deliberately designed to appear or not is unclear. For
example, “the last step is forever the hardest,” “begins with a sealed
prototype,” “a massless history of walking with the heaviest material.”

The performance is like attempting to read an animated
crossword puzzle. Our eye attempts to find one consistent reading path or
method but is constantly derailed and disoriented by the curving inversions
and juxtapositions of words; we give up trying to read the whole, shifting
our attention instead to “engagement beneath, above, with and through the
surface of writing” (Cayley 2). The word “clown” for me epitomized the
circus-like roundabout manner of reading, and the word “jousting” in
combination with the recurrent neighing and whinnying, seemed to imply a
playful battle between figure and ground, surface and depth,
one-dimensional fixity and dynamic elusiveness.

&; Amaris