The Anatomy of Inscription (Special Issue of Humanities)

deadline for submissions: 
February 1, 2018
full name / name of organization: 
Hunter Dukes, University of Cambridge
contact email: 

In their 1910 essay ‘Poetic Principles’, Nikolai and David Burliuk describe poetry as ‘sensible’, arguing that the word ‘changes its qualities according to whether it is handwritten, printed or thought’. Jacques Derrida widens this claim in Of Grammatology (1967), writing that one of the ‘fundamental problems’ when coming to terms with signification is the deployment of ‘diverse forms of graphic substances (material: wood, wax, skin, stone, ink, metal, vegetable)’, as well as different kinds of styli. How do the material properties of writing feed back into its semantic sense, differing when engraved in stone or tattooed on skin? Are inscriptions in paintings — which are sometimes indecipherable, as in the case of Alexander Nagel’s ‘pseudoscripts’ (2011) — fundamentally different from text in film, the subject of Mikhail Iampolski’s The Memory of Tiresias (1998)? The recent material, object-oriented, and affective approaches to criticism have all sounded the death knell for the linguistic turn’s methodological dominance. While theorists such as Vicki Kirby (2011, 1997) and Stacy Alaimo (2010) have analysed how bodies are inscribed and encoded, less attention has been devoted to the agential and emotional potential of inscription itself. Beyond bibliographic considerations of material culture, how does a body of text impact biological bodies? And how do literature, film, and the visual arts reimagine the boundaries between these two kinds of corpora?

Juliet Fleming begins her Cultural Graphology (2016) with the claim that ‘we do not know what writing is’. We might add to this and observe that we do not know where writing is — and where it is not. A 2014 article in the Journal of Zoology describes how polar bear footprints facilitate chemical communication by means of unique ‘marking strategies’. In L’Incandescent (2003), Michel Serres argues that ice cores extracted from Greenland glaciers are a kind of inorganic writing, similar to what Jussi Parikka calls ‘geological media’ (2015). This special issue of Humanities takes an expanded sense of inscription as its starting point, inviting a variety of approaches. I particularly welcome articles that consider: nonhuman writing, filmic and painterly text, new accounts of gesture and ornament, the history of the alphabet, and how metaphors of information storage play out on different scales (genetic, geological, historical). Following work by Johanna Drucker (2014), I am also invested in media research that — to quote N. Katherine Hayles (1999) — reflects on the ‘entanglement of signal and materiality in bodies and books’.

Deadline for submission of 200-300 word abstracts: 1 February 2018

Notification of provisional acceptance (pending peer review): 15 February 2018

Deadline for submission of full essays: 15 August 2018