多田佳那子Tada Kanako and Ann Cotten
„Was passiert beim Lesen? Behinderte Turing-Machinen liefern Daten.“
Longue durée performance
„What happens during reading?“
Tada and Cotten make use of their non-native reading practices to reflect on what components reading in general might consist of.
„What happens during reading?“ is a question which might disturb any reader’s concentration, but was explicitly asked by 國分功一郎Kokubun Kôichirô in his book questioning „The Principles of Deleuzian Philosophy“. And it is a question that has been asked surprisingly little in the solely alphabet-based sphere: as if we were so proud and so nervous of question our literacy to find it better not to look too closely at the process itself.
Tada and Cotten take a practical approach that comes out of a breaking out of this flow and pressure of competence. As 多和田葉子Tawada Yôko says: stepping out of the mother tongue is a step into freedom, with all its difficulties.
Of course, reading as a process is close to the model of a Turing machine, but is less close in the measure that it is holistic. In order for sense to ensue, like in dirty electronic signalling, traces of passed signals must remain in the air or in the mind. Reading in a foreign language, we find ourselves juggling words, i.e. sounds, visual presentations and meanings, meanings which, like globs of living slime or Kugelblitze, change shape unless they adhere to one another to form a specific, active context. Such multiplicity of tasks may be handled chaotically if a high level of ambient competence can be taken for granted, like in a native language. If not, then we are reduced to handling our reading consciousness a bit like a Turing machine, updating the meaning of each sentence – a state in our consciousness – with each new word that is added to the sentence. The shape of this varies like different styles of crocheting. In Japanese, sentence structure generally follows a thema-rhema structure, beginning by setting the scene or pinpointing a context, then zooming in on the focus. In German, by contrast, we start with the subject and add remarks about the context at the end, unless we are really emphasizing it. Changing from German to French or English is like merely switching guitars, skis or bicycles: one adjusts one’s intuitions a little and is good to go. But the reversal of protocol of the sense-making process contributes to a deep disorientation felt by language-switchers between these languages, one which dislodges very basic ideas about what sense is and how we make it, use it, and relate to texts.
It is not that we want to assume that uncovering and analysing the structure of the activity answers these questions. It is likely to disprove some lighthanded assumptions projected from old notions and formulations, but that isn’t necessarily helpful. The question can be asked whether explanation is what we need. But certainly by tracing the contours of the components of a process, black boxes of skill become more accessible to other people, and conversations can start about individual and biographical differences in the pathways we use, often to acchieve the same goals that are set by society: to read and, as they say, understand a text. As Oswald Wiener always emphasized, we do not really have the slightest idea what understanding is. But there is no doubt that reading texts can give rise to what Wiener called „Scheinerkenntnisse“, and the task of discerning these from what one would want to call real insights, „echte Erkenntnisse“ is the only path I can think of toward defining what could be meant by the latter.
One may also think of the way microbiologists use indirect signs as indices for invisible processes, slowing down or obstructing procedures in order to afford the perceptual entry of an analysing consciousness. Tada and Cotten make use of their non-native reading practices to make more visible what components reading in general might consist of. Like a pantomime of a computational model of a reading consciousness such as a Turing machine, they peruse a line of sense until hitting the obstacle of a non-decodeable unit, which triggers a consultation of an external dictionary and the adding of the item to the list of new words on the blackboard. Thus collecting what is new to them, a novelty factor of texts, which is traditionally linked to texts‘ valuation, is somehow parodied by its demonstation on a banal level – pointing to the issue that what a reader feels to be new is not always new in an objective sense; that a text travels through or inhabits, lives on a multitude of diverse experiences of it. The energy they visibly spend jumping up and writing, as well as the repeated breaking of the flow necessary for sense-making, allows external observers to better estimate the energy that reading a text consumes. Reading in a foreign language can be seen as an exaggeration of the difficulties encountered/the work performed in reading in a language one is fluent in, and the physical aspect of jumping up adds one further exaggeration. The melancholy of word lists, writing as a premonition of forgetting, the brittleness of concentration, the brevity of human life in comparison to the lives of theories and texts gives the performance a sad note as well, particularly taking place at a moment when electronic translation tools make bodies and their cumbersome multifunctionality seem anachronistic. The coquette fantasy of Oswald Wiener to describe consciousness as a Turing machine might also suddenly seem to be sitting together with the organic body in a funerary boat drifting away from the independent life of texts and simulated readers, which do what professional readers tend to do, only better: The result of reading text is the production of more text.