dérives à partir de Nico/drifts from Nico [24 variations & extensions]
by Demosthenes Agrafiotis


1.“Voir/dire” a title in French of a book elaborated by an American of Greek origin for English speaking international readers! Transnational, global and ecumenical gesture with a multiplicity of dimensions and of levels of complexity.

  1. At first approach the binome: “voir/dire” invites to analyze it by using analytical tools from Plato, Wittgenstein, Merleau-Ponty, Lyotard…But the challenge goes beyond the philosophical discourse, that is to explore to which degree it is possible to use instruments of investigation the “seeing/speaking” that come from poetry, literature and arts. Nico has chosen as “voie royale”, the poetical exploration and he creates an isomorphism in relation to his field of research. He could choose the scientific or philosophical methodology but he has preferred the adventure and the uncertainty of artistic endeavor. His spirit of audacity obliges me also to react to his poems with poetical aphorisms.
  2. Cycles of destruction and creation: each time an ecological-geological rearrangement or a biological mutation or a new socio-cultural practice or a new collective order or a technological innovation … and discontinuity prevails over continuity. At these critical junctures, rearrangements, both in things and in words, symbols and images, are crucial, essential and at multiple levels of the individual and collective life of human beings – hence they are called fundamental changes or “revolutions”.
  3. The cultivation of cereals, agriculture led to a large-scale demographic reversal (among other reorganizations). Providing food for increasingly large groups of people was the beginning of change in all aspects of their social life. Especially space and time will gain momentum as the production of agricultural products will allow the reproduction of structures and practices with order and repetition. Societies will acquire new forms of memory and especially “cereal plants” will acquire a memory imposed on them by the human species.
  4. The alphabet will follow and as one of the greatest cultural changes, it influenced every social practice and social guide of individual and collective life. In particular, its contribution to the formation of collective memory is decisive. Writing will create a new correlation between words and reality_ space and time will acquire a discipline, as in fixed formations beyond the abilities of individuals, they will be restrained, their changes and their corresponding meaning will be captured. Socrates, of course, preferred the  oral  tradition and  he  has formulated  some critical arguments  against the  intrusion of writing, especially with the issue of memory.
  5. But why focus on memory? Modern societies reward the future, and as the future tends to be closer, a “memory of the future” is created, increasingly clear, and to the detriment of the classical memory of the past. If this diagnosis has a degree of validity, then what will be the fate of the “taming” of human expression so far? What will be the next “domestication” of human creative forces the most critical socio-culturally? The mobility is so intense and the initiatives so many that any prediction seems impossible. In this period of reorganization, do poetry and art have the opportunity and the possibility of “intervention”? Or just a comment? Or the luxury of introversion (with guilt, few to many)? Poetry and art, are they capable to analyze their own mode of existence in a numerical-global world?
  6. According to Chinese tradition, “shu” means written and “shufa” is the writing-art; the latter is not limited to the “art of writing” or the “art of writing” or the “calligraphy” of the western world but is an attempt to pair and articulate “painting”, “poetry” and “music” – in accordance, of course, with the analytical categories of Europe. For this reason the Chinese calligraphy could be considered as the equivalent of Opera according to the European tradition.
  7. The Western tradition has to present the handwritten books/manuscripts of the monks (Byzantine, Catholic-Cistercian…); the Arabic production of calligraphic works adorns the mosques of the faithful Muslims; the Chinese and the Japanese poets/painters in their corresponding traditions, have cultivated calligraphic works  but which were generally  recognizable and legible as writing-art and not only by the initiates-“connaisseurs”.
  8. The Chinese and Japanese brush is not a simple tool that could give shapes to letters, place them on the white page, but it is an instrument-dispositif to capture the theatricality of ideograms, logograms and pictograms and to create (in this way) the corresponding rules of expressiveness in the long run. It is essentially an art in motion and an art of motion.
  9. What significance can this tradition have? How much should the modern (technologically powerful) world pay attention to this special tradition of Asia? If, the alphabet tends to prevail, proving its exceptional virtues, then why resort to the “mysteries” of Chinese “archaic” writing? Does exist a war between the two writing systems: letters vs ideograms? How sure is the triumph of the alphabet, after all?
  10. As new information and telecommunication technologies not only constitute the material substrate in the production and diffusion of meaning (and non-meaning) but also the determinant topology within which communication acts develop, critical questions arise about the relations of image and words , “figure et discours”, writing and painting, codes and morphological rules or conventions, today and especially tomorrow. In brief, the adventure of “voir /dire”- “lire/ecrire”.
  11. The previous relationships do not exhaust the whole field of issues that arise with the intrusion of new technological systems into every human activity and especially into the thought, imagination and dream. Technological rearrangements are not the only reasons for this revision of the relationships between signs, symbols, images, discourses in the modern world, but technological advancement also serves as an obvious “first move” according to Aristotle. Also, the dichotomies of the type discourse / image or oral/written dangerously simplify the whole state of things, representations, words and meaningful practices; nevertheless, the dichotomies permit relative clarity to the dense field of production of meanings and visual charges.
  12. Writing systems, relations between languages ​​and forms of expression ​​, the new substrates of writing, the destiny of images within extremely complex information networks, and finally the domination of digital world over the analog are some of the key dimensions that lead to a new problematic for the existence of the dipoles: seeing/writing and image/text or seeing/speaking and sound/meaning.
  13. The visual poems, the visual products and the poems which compose the last book of Nico Vassilakis could be considered as a multiform circus of works-propositions-arrangements where letters, traces, materials are combined in the “eternal drama” of the senses and the meaning, the pleasure and the wonder.
  14. Letters as shapes, as products of collective innovative action, as building blocks of words and calculus belong simultaneously to the abstract world of logic, relevance and ritual, and at the same time to directly existing world with their own materiality, their reference to things, their participation in the transformation of physical and human reality. In other terms the letters are presented as a crucial condition of human adventure and trial both at the level of the transformation of reality and at the level of assessing the possibilities for grasping this reality.
  15. The Chinese have the word: “tian wen” to denote ideograms (the elements of their writing system).In writing systems based on alphabets , the elements are the letters.In both cases If we look at the sky ideograms and letters will allow us to trace the beginnings of the universe; if we look down at the earth the same ideograms  letters will allow us to reveal the truth of history as it has been imprinted on its surface for thousands of years. In other words, to go between “voire” and “dire”.
  16. The alphabets are at the same time of this world and the other world; they belong to things and meanings; they are the greatest (perhaps) cultural innovation and the most useful crafts; they participate in the adventure of writing but they are still images.
  17. In modern societies the “word / image” dipole has undergone a violent redefinition due to new information and telecommunication technologies. What will be the fate of the alphabets not only as a means of writing but also as a set of pictorial choices? To what adventure have languages ​​and letters entered our internationalized planet in which numerical reasoning becomes dominant? What forms of solutions will be invented for the equation: “voire,dire” in the future decades or centuries?

19.The alphabet, as one of the most important socio-cultural innovation, has a peculiar history. While it is possible to place it chronologically in the succession and coexistence of writing systems, it is very difficult to determine its exact place and time of emergence. What matters, however, is the fact that this “human discovery” has had and still has fundamental implications for cultural development, both in societies with an alphabetical writing system and on our planet as a whole.

20.The new technologies of information and telecommunication, play an increasingly critical role in the preparation and shaping of the third millennium. The changes, already made or predicted, are multiple. All aspects of individual and collective life are affected, often in a contradictory or even paradoxical way, by these new technological systems. Time, space, writing, the gaze, for example, as cultural and aesthetic standards are overturned due to the “nature” of new technologies: they are not only complex sets (machines, devices, instruments) but above all and more and more provisions that carry out mental, logical and symbolic processes.

21.In this situation that many people call transitional, it is almost fatal to re-analyze and redefine the fundamental aspects of the cultural trajectory of modern societies. The alphabet is perhaps the ideal place, the royal pathway, to try an artistic practice and a poetical approach that aspires to ask questions about the cultural situation, which is experienced both as a crisis and as a starting point for the best or the worst.

22.Works with and on alphabets  or letters  are an attempt to ask some questions and clarify aspects  that are directly related to the “nature” letters of the alphabet and the scripts as such: natural / cultural, reading / gaze, material / symbolic, presence / absence, verbal / virtual, element / structure, point / image, meaning / non-meaning, speakable/non -speakable. Nico Vassilakis  has dedicated  his life to the difficult mission  to tame the  above dichotomies.

23.Books as  these  of Nico are dedicated to alphabets or  to letters , real or imaginary, to their semiotic and figurative distinctions as well as to the aesthetic peculiarities , they suggest the urgent need for  re-examining  the ways by which  “voire et dire” emerges in societies in continuous transition-our contemporary societies.

24.Nico Vassilakis with his letters, his words, his visual artifacts create maps of possible polysemic landscapes. He is a unfatigable cultural worker of the imaginary of the letters and for the letters of imaginary.

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