the word, Tadeusz Sławek

On the white sheet of paper there is a word. What we can see while looking at the text in front of us is nothing but an arid description. And then, immediately, there arises the first doubt about the rightfulness and truthfulness of this description: should it not be ‘the word – word’ that has been written down here? The word which appears in front of us is not only a word in a colloquial or archaic and grammatical meaning (within which it could be understood as the synonym of a more up-to-date category of ‘the verb’) but also in its semantic dimension, as the word which actually does mean the word it signifies, the meta-word. We can see there that this seemingly simple appearance of ‘the word’ conceals something like the continuation activated by the play of quotation marks which by repeating the same, create a continuous difference between the quotations which seem to sound identical. Likewise, while looking at the text by Dróżdż I see more than only ‘the word’ but I realise that what I am looking at is ‘the word-word’. The text described therein is a particularly interesting example of concrete poetry as it reveals what is so important to it: the surface where the literal and the obvious is imperceptibly transforming into the conceptual, which belongs to the realm of thought.

        Concrete poetry is a continuous movement and oscillation between the implicit and the hidden, between the thing and its application. The difference between these two records: ‘the word’ and ‘the word-word’ is the border which separates the word from the object signified by it. However, we become aware of this difference somehow post factum: we realise what the possibilities of one interpretation only at the very moment when we adopt the other alternative. Both these interpretations contain one another and we appear to be moving inside the pop-art image from one configuration to the other as the moment when it takes a specific shape immediately breeds a suspicion and necessity of complementing it with a currently absent form. […]

        A concrete work is constituted around a certain fundamental difference (which is a limit and a border) whose nature is visible to us only in the constant motion between the conditions on its either side. In fact, the work by Stanisław Dróżdż is not the object but the object and/or the concept but the object-concept, the act of pulsating from one to the other, ‘the concept-shape’ which is how the Author himself refers to his texts.

        Let us return to the adjective ‘literal’ as it seems to be apt to describe the mechanism of the concrete work which is ‘literal’ at two levels. Firstly, because it is ‘exact’, which means that it truthfully recaptures its real meaning. When the noun ‘word’ appears in a concrete work, we know that it means ‘the word’, neither more nor less. On the other hand, the entire graphic layer of the work indicates that regardless of the notion ‘word’, what is the most important is also the object ‘word’ visible on a sheet of paper. Therefore, there are two tendencies of the literal in a concrete text defined by both the congruence of the word with the signified concept and the movement towards the word in its entire material aspect. Here, although the conceptual meaning of the word is remembered, it seems to be suspended. The former type of the literal can be expressed in the sentence: I am congruent with what I promise, whereas the latter by the statement: I am nothing else but the text word by word and the substance of the word is the space where I exist.

        ‘The word’ on a white sheet of paper. We could add: a ‘lonely’ word but it appears that we should resist this temptation. We have known at least since the times of Saussure that the sign is a trace of divergence in meaning which distinguishes it from other signs. If we say that the difference is the main element of the sign, it means that what we want to achieve is a specific piling up of presence and absence, which as Paul Ricoeur states is ‘the structure of meaning’. […] The application of signs must always assume this plurality even if there is only one sign visible on the page, it is irrevocably and inevitably entangled in the network of other signs and as such it can never be lonely. Returning to our mannerist rhetoric, let us say that on the horizon of semiotics there may not appear any single white sign as it is immediately accompanied by the entire fleet of other sails which may remain invisible behind the horizon only for a while. Therefore we do not know if ‘the word’ placed centrally on a white sheet of paper appears there alone or if ‘the rest’ of the text which included it has been removed.

A fragment of an essay The Art of Wise Concrete Fact, [in:] Tadeusz Sławek, In-Between Letters, Wydawnictwo Dolnośląskie, Wrocław 1989.