The Beauty of Understanding

 

We shall not cease from exploration / And the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time.

T.S. Eliot

At the beginning of personally important developments, we are mostly not aware of that it is one at all – neither which one it could be, as seen backwards, from the far future.

I still remember the moment when I learned to read for the first time. And it was not my last. I sat in my mother’s car and we drove down the Allersberger Street in Nuremberg. All signs and writings in this urban world were still only odd somethings to me, pointed, jagged zig zag mountain ranges, or the handwritten ones, just flourishing and floating from somewhere to nowhere. I was pretty frustrated at this time, as I REALLY wanted to know, what all this did mean and what everyone around me was talking about! The traffic lights went red, our car stopped. – And then, I just took the letters into my mind and began to hang them into everything, into what I saw as being a tree at the roads edge. So just for a few very personal seconds this tree went into a strange structure, being created out of the letters I knew, but did not understand so far in combination. It was a triumph: What haunted me in the form of what I was not able to understand was just transformed into what I was able to see at this very moment, – if I only wanted to! A few seconds later I asked my mum again, as so often before, “what does this mean?” – and pointed out to a sign at a shop’s front right of the tree. She said “it’s a hairdresser’s shop” – and now, that has been the very first word I really have been able to read on my own – guided by my mother’s words and an unforgettable feeling: The beauty of understanding. – Thanks to the hairdresser.

At the beginning of personally important crossways, some things are getting less into focus, others are getting more and further things are coinciding into one single thing – or more things, if we do not forget the true diversity we had to face in that situation. In early August 2012 I tried to write shorter and shorter poetry. I always loved short poems, but this time it went extreme. I wanted to feel something like the quantum mechanics of meaning, – as I already knew, the feeling of meaning is always stronger with less brushwood surrounding it. And I already knew and loved Giuseppe Ungaretti’s Italian short poem “Mattina” (“Morning”):

Mattina

M’illumino

d’immenso

(I’ll have a try in English at least for translating a part of the meaning: “Morning // Me, enlightened / by the immeasurable”)
Isn’t it so simple and great? Even Japanese haikus are longer, using more material to create art by words. Here we just have seven syllables, which can be nearly described as the length of only one middle verse of a haiku. That is not too much for one whole poem. But I wanted to go further, if possible, perhaps even using less than seven characters. Walking down the Sperberstreet in Nuremberg and passing my former primary school, I thought not of poems, but sadly of an article about the oppressive world-wide problem of mass deaths of honey bees which I have read recently, while suddenly a word popped into my mind – or, let’s say: a poem. Even the heading “Fruehling ohne Bienen” (“spring without bees”) is twice as long as the poem itself.

“Unsummen” is a German word that normally means just “vast sums” or “tons of”, however, the second part of the word (“summen”) does solely mean “humming” or “buzzing” –  and could be read alternatively with a prefix “un-” as meaning “not” or “nothing humming” and “not” or “nothing buzzing”, – but only if the reader reads it as a neologism, guided by the poem:

Fruehling ohne Bienen

unsummen

And, there it hit me again: The beauty of understanding. Even if this poem was only built out of three syllables, it was the beginning of something new for me. But what was new? More than one theme was vibrant in here. So I also played with a few concrete poems around that time, using less and less words and characters. And vividly – if not to say violently – I often remembered also the moment, when I learned reading, guided by its heavy emotional impact. The main theme of that moment was: Learning to read. But the second and also very important theme of that moment was: Doing your own thing is making you smile – and is giving you the force to understand!

While having studied biology and philosophy in Berlin, I had Ludwig Wittgenstein’s late philosophy in mind, also Peter Bieri, which I learned to know – and texts of Heinz von Foerster, which I sadly only read (he is a system theory pioneer who learned to know Wittgenstein as a child). System theory gave me a major hint, that it is not the glyphs, but it is the rule for the glyphs, that is the base for the meaning of each glyph or character together with the other ones! (Just remember the tree made out of characters next to the hairdresser’s shop!) Further also Eugen Gomringer, a poet often called “the father of concrete poetry”, which I already knew from my school books, came into my mind hence – and I read some articles about his life, which impressed me very much. He uses words and language as a material to build his concrete poems. But not enough, during these weeks I also learned to know some important practical newbies, as the graphical software Inkscape, a useful tool for building vector graphics and also font creations! That was the way from August 2012, from the bee missing poem “unsummen” into a whole new world, at least for me. The first of the resulting visual poems in following this path was “im nu” (“in a flash”), that is showing an hourglass, solely built out of one character, the roman letter “n”, which can be twisted around and then reads as “u”. Small portions built out of “n” and “u” run through the middle of the poem – like sand particles in an hourglass and forming the expression “nun” (“now”) written downwards in the middle of the form, where the sand usually begins to slip dramatically faster into the lower half of the glass.

When I did it back in October 2012, I sat in front of my laptop and instantly knew and strongly felt: Here it is again, that blessing of the beauty of understanding! In the following weeks I did more and more and more of these “concrete” or perhaps better described as “visual” poems in Inkscape.

At the very beginning, a sun is being born over a calm sea. And “ships in the morning” are out there, reaching out for food and for their families’ future, life, happiness and freedom in peace. But that was not the next beginning, – that one of 2016. It was only an important child of that beginning, perhaps the tenth of the visual poems in Burmese alphabet, which I did in late 2016. Perhaps “ships in the morning” is the best one of them, but it is not the first one. Everything to do with it has begun with Lynn Zinyaw and his visual poetry. I have been watching his art in the internet for a few years and also on facebook and loved the wonderful characters he always used for his pictures. But of course I did not understand anything at all – except the meaning concerning the picture aspects. One evening in November 2016 I sat there frustrated again, as I found a lot of his beautiful pictures on his website and one strong question remained in my brain: What does that REALLY mean? So I looked to translating webpages – as I did before – and suddenly there it was: Burmese translation in Google translator! Months before that opportunity did not exist! So I began with simple characters and found out more and more. Some of the Burmese characters are complex compound ideograms, some are only sounds or syllables, some of them are both, depending on the environment in the sentences. But not everything was easy, as the compound and complex characters are always destroyed in my laptops copy-paste-function – and on screen via browser software! Trying to do something with them in Inkscape, I had to make screenshots of what I saw of them in the Google translate window (as it turned out that at least here they are displayed in the right form) and then to rebuild them in Inkscape step by step. I have never done something like this before. This way, it took me hours, mornings, days, nights, weekends. But what was the most important beginning, here?

I would say, the beginning was on November, 15th, 2016, around 10:00 am in the morning in Germany. The night was not for sleeping, though I did not too much at this first moment. I read a lot of articles in that night and now only had that fixed idea, that perhaps Google translator brings me to something totally new and gave in “having” and gave in “needing” in Burmese. The ideograms that appeared then were just stunning, I only had to group them to what I saw and had a picture, the first one: “Having and needing”. But who in this picture really has and who really needs? What remained is a corridor of mirrored reflections – and my very first one in Burmese alphabet! And the emotional impact, too. I sat before my laptop with tears in my eyes. And, strange enough, also Michael Pietrucha from the German author’s group Wortwerk Erlangen shared that emotional experience, when he saw the picture and was immediately reminded of his grandmother feeding the chicken as usual. That is what language and art does to us man, or in short: That’s the beauty of understanding.

The first three of the pictures in Burmese alphabet were dedicated to Mr. Lynn Zinyaw, as I only wanted to thank him for his art and the guided way into that beautiful beginning. Burmese alphabet is much rounder and more lovely than the other alphabets. But I still only understand very small parts of it. So, what I do is quite like working in a quarry. Stone after stone has to be picked up and proved. Then I put them into a picture in my mind and on the screen. But what happens, if I do that? At first it is always difficult and you see nothing special. You will have to find the right day and moment. The slow “emergence of understanding of that which is understandable and that which is not, but still interesting and graphically effective enough” is the resulting conscious experience. It always was impressive for me, to be able to see oneself in such a process of gradual understanding. If the understanding takes place too fast, then it will not happen with its maximal beauty. Only the right speed of this conscious process is bearing a maximum of pleasure. That is why I most of the time put in several meanings, so you can go deeper and deeper into the pictures and find out more and more in the interfering of the found hints. In this form, it is not just concrete poetry any more, its often more complex and has more dimensions, even in simple pictures like “im nu”, which was my first one of that style, from 2012. I called it “Yokto Poetry” or “Yocto Poetry” in 2012, as “Yocto” is the prefix for smallest things, measured by multiplying10−24 – and symbolizing, that I use only very few characters or words for that style. It is my thinking in the way of system theory and referring to Heinz von Foerster, which demands, that where there can be more connections and interference, there should be more connections and interference. In the best case, that gives our brain the opportunity of gradually exploring the beauty of understanding, guided by its archaic and powerful emotions.