william s. burroughs

HIEROGLYPHIC SILENCE

In September, I spent two weeks at Wells College as a scholar in residence at the invitation of the Wells Book Arts Center and String Room Gallery.

Detail of Hieroglyphic Silence I,  letterpress, 2017

Detail of Hieroglyphic Silence I, letterpress, 2017

The Wells Book Arts Center, housed in a classic college building with oversize doors and stone architectural details is a beautiful place to work. I had a studio room to myself with a Universal I Vandercook press. Cayuga Lake is just across the road. The letterpress studio holds a large collection of vintage and rare foundry type which I decided to utilize for a series of new prints in the vein of Small Fires. Poking around the drawers, I found one marked "Egyptian" and saw it was a selection of tiny Egyptian revival borders and ornaments, including two tiny Gardiner style icons, one of a bird, and one of a seated mummy.

Hieroglyphic Silence I , letterpress, 2017

Hieroglyphic Silence I, letterpress, 2017

I'd just reread Egyptologist and author Susan Brind Morrow's The Dawning Moon of the Mind, a poetic analysis of The Pyramid Texts and was thinking about her straightforward description of hieroglyphics as pictures that are letters and pictures that are pictures. They are both pictographic and phonetic. They are to be read individually to spell out words but also together in associated groupings to add important context and specificity to their meaning.

Detail of Hieroglyphic Silence II , letterpress, 2017

Detail of Hieroglyphic Silence II, letterpress, 2017

I'd also been thinking about this in relation to William S Burroughs thoughts on language as a method of control.  He believed in order to break the control, one had to rub out the word. Nullify it. Find hieroglyphic silence.

Hieroglyphic Silence II,  letterpress, 2017

Hieroglyphic Silence II, letterpress, 2017

Isn't it interesting that the Ancient Egyptian language of silences omits vowels from it's written form? And what is a language that cannot be read, if not pictures that are letters and pictures that are pictures?

I keep returning to Burroughs and Egypt in my thoughts. It is a conversation. I've felt an affinity to both for many years. Burroughs believed in dreams and I believe in dreams. Silent films removed from time. Burroughs dreamed of Egypt and I dream of Egypt. Crocodiles in mud. Crouched in a marsh, holding a frantic dog by the neck. Even a waking dream once, the sound of trickling water and the heat of an early morning sun on my face.

I once had a dream of standing behind him, very old and wearing his hat, before a very large book. My hand over his. Running our fingers over the words on the pages.

 

My Education

I fell asleep on my couch this afternoon and I dreamt that an older man sang me a song. He sang it in a very cheerful way and I remembered both the lyrics and the melody when I woke up, the lyrics were "She told me not to be afraid, but I am not afraid of the future." I have been thinking a lot of about dreams lately and also about oracles, and the cryptic nature of their utterances.

The dream also made me a recall a memory from childhood. I used to write songs on the piano. I brought a piece of sheet music with a song I had written to a party hosted by my parent's friends. There was a piano at the party and a musician, she said she would like to see my composition and would play it for me on the piano. But I didn't really understand musical notation, and the song came out odd and dissonant, like a piece of experimental modern music. I hadn't written any of the notes correctly. 

So much of my art has come from misunderstandings. These misunderstandings are a gift. Like dreams, they are glimpses at the oracle, and these little confusions end up being more profound than the intended message.

 :: My Education, William S. Burroughs ::