The Alan Sondheim Mail Archive

September 3, 2006

Analogic Array:

notes on reading Samuel Johnson's Dictionary 1785-1799 edition

First, that words are pulled into existence by their extensions, as if
these are chreodic formations (see Waddington).

Second, the feel and weight of the paper; every page carries a visible
history which has no origin but an emission in reverse.

Third, the lack of page numbers; one is guided solely by word order (and
as if the volumes have an indefinite number of pages).

Fourth, the three columns with three letter page headings as in MIM MIN
MIN or ORD ORD ORD; these are loosely tethered to their word-lists.

Fifth, the latinate quality of the whole, romance languages in particular,
lending themselves to fields of words and worlds creation.

Sixth, the pleasure of the text and worlds; Johnson is famously partial -
see definitions of "oats" or "puritan."

Seventh, the careful rationalism of the text, accompanied by a relative
elimination of the abject; "shit" is not present, but "urine" is, and
"whore" and "pimp" are present but "fuck" isn't.

Eighth, the maternality of the volumes, occupying a relatively wide field
of vision, the world safely inscribed, references to Pope, Donne, Swift,
Shakespeare and company.

Ninth, the labor of writing, delineating, almost single-handedly, word
after word; one searches for development, for the indexing methodology
used for some forty-thousand words.

Tenth, those words almost certainly invented by Johnson, perhaps
represented by other authors, such as a French-English, English-French
dictionary I have from 1845.

Eleventh, the analogic weight of the enterprise, in spite of apparent
precision in definition; thus the weight, touch, rustle, scent, of the
book is foregrounded, along with the wear-and-tear of type, and the
definitions themselves which are more than likely to emphasize poetry and
poetics in example.

Twelfth, differentiation as problematic; at times, a word will be
identified as a "plant" or a "serpent" without further description; such
description, scientism, might be elsewhere; but see his entry for

In summary, a matrix not positing, but _enveloping_ knowledge; such
knowledge is lived, biographed; such knowledge effloresces; rationality
and ratio are assumed; the page is a field, not enumerated container; word
roots likewise are fields; idioms break the code (there are over one
hundred of them for "take"; words are words and things are things;
language by the grace of God and man.

(to be amplified)

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