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Visual Poetics 02
by Derek Beaulieu
Information as Material, 2007
Flatland by Derek Beaulieu constitutes a translation of the science-fiction novella Flatland by the Victorian, political satirist, E. A. Abbott (who depicts a 2D-universe, inhabited by a society of polygons, all of whom remain oblivious to our own 3D-universe). Beaulieu uses this book as an occasion to transform the action of reading into a phylum of mapping, doing so by plotting the successive occurrence of letters, from line to line in a current edition of the text, thus connecting the dots, first by linking all the As, then by linking all the Bs, proceeding in this way through the page, 26 times, before moving on to the next page of text.
Abbott suggests that, to the inhabitants of Flatland (all of whom see each other only along one spatial profile), everyone appears to resemble the same kind of line: “be he a Triangle, Square, Pentagon, Hexagon, Circle, what you will—a straight Line he looks and nothing else.” Beaulieu has, in turn, literalized this dimensional perspective within his own rereading of the narrative, thus reducing the shapely letters on the page to nothing more than direct, lineal traces. Each line henceforth represents a kind of alphabetic trajectory, plotting a set of lingual vectors, all of which transect the plane of the textual surface itself.
Beaulieu describes this book as an array of “superimposed seismographs,” all of which resemble the schematic printouts from either cardiac fibrilliations or spasmic encephalograms. Beaulieu has, in effect, reinvented, what Olson might call, “composition by field”—except that, in this case, the page does not become a “canvas” for lines that notate the “proprioception” of our breathing and listening; instead, the page notates the statistical disposition of each visual letter for our optical perusal. The book showcases a “rhizome” of interconnections, otherwise concealed by the discursive experience of textuality.
Beaulieu has drawn attention to the proprioception of our roving gazes as they leap from letter to letter—and in doing so he has repeated in verse what the modern artist has already done in paint, abolishing the depth of field in order to foreground the flatness of a pictorial viewscape. Narrative now finds itself distilled to an array of diagrammatical crisscrossings that almost depict the polygonal traceries of the flattened, fictional characters described in the novella itself. Each page thus becomes a kind of “stock index” for the rise and fall of these letters as they appear and depart during the saccadic activity of our reading….