Handout: King, for the Latin American Studies Center Café Break Series, University of Maryland, College Park

. Wednesday, November 7 In Knots: Transdisciplinary Khipu. – talk website: http://transkhipu.blogspot.com/ ; pinterest site: http://pinterest.com/katkingumd/khipus/ Katie King, Women's Studies, University of Maryland, College Park/Email: katking@umd.edu Home Page: http://katiekin.weebly.com/ ; follow on twitter @katkingumd
“The word khipu comes from the Quechua word for “knot" and denotes both singular and plural. Khipu are textile artifacts composed of cords of cotton or occasionally camelid fiber. The cords are arranged such that there is one main cord, called a primary cord, from which many pendant cords hang. There may be additional cords attached to a pendant cord; these are termed subsidiaries. Some khipu have up to 10 or 12 levels of subsidiaries. Khipu are often displayed with the primary cord stretched horizontally, so that the pendants appear to form a curtain of parallel cords, or with the primary cord in a curve, so that the pendants radiate out from their points of attachment. When khipu were in use, they were transported and stored with the primary cord rolled into a spiral. In this configuration khipu have been compared to string mops.” (Urton & Brezine 2003 --)

• “People often cannot see what they take for granted until they encounter someone who does not take it for granted.” (Bowker and Star 1999:305) • Khipu are things in the sense joked about by Bruno Latour: "Facts are no longer the mouth-shutting alternative to politics, but what has to be stabilized instead. To use another etymology, 'objects' which had been conceived as wholly exterior to the social and political realm, have become 'things' again, that is, in the sense of the mixture of assemblies, issues, causes for concerns, data, law suits, controversies which the words res, causa, chose, aitia, ding have designated in all the European languages." (Latour 2002:21) TRANSCONTEXTUAL PRACTICES: Transdisciplinary work befriends and experiences a range of academic and other genres of writing, entailment and analysis, befriends and experiences their consequent and diverging values. Transcontextual feminisms as I have come to understand them, have to scope and scale among ecologies of knowledge. They work to remain curious: about both the passionate affiliations that INTENSIVE knowledge work done among close and precise disciplinary grains of detail require and produce, and also the necessarily recursive and speculative wanderings among knowledge worlds to produce EXTENSIVE pattern-makings that transdisciplinary work makes possible. SOME ROSETTA STONE? DECOMPILING? WRITING WITHOUT WORDS? Khipu knowledges are dynamic and changing. Things in museums, decontextualized, have been joined by new excavations, by connections with communities of practice across time, by comparisons with contemporary technologies with clues and possibilities, by ways of thinking about thinking that examine cognition in sensory forms, and by transmedia storytellings across platforms and sensoria. MacArthur grant winner Gary Urton works with several somethings in between the written and some concluding reading, drawn out or telescoped in what we might imagine in analogy with today's software "decompiler,” while ethno-historian Sabine Hyland checks out whether a khipu “rosetta stone” might exist, and anthropologist Frank Salomon explores “data writing” without words. SPECULATING, THEORIZING, STRINGING ALONG WITH URTON Urton muses: "How could one 'write' using strings, knots, and colors, rather than pen, paper, and graphemes?" [vii] Stringing along with Urton we find out that binary coding is especially meaningful because Andean social organization and conceptual systems are structured within moieties and dualities. The seven-bit binary codes of the khipu would need to be decompiled, not read directly, even if we have some code book to the meanings of the 0/1 choices of material (cotton or wool), color class (red or dark rainbow), spin/ply relations (z-clockwise/s-counterclockwise or s/z), pendant attachment (recto or verso ties), knot directionality (z or s), number class (ch'ulla-odd or chi'ullantin-even), and information type (decimal or nondecimal). [vi] Urton explores possible decompilings from the seven-bit binary codes of the string records themselves to the high-level Quechua language of administration in the Inka empire, to begin an extended collective process to translate the quantity of information he argues knotted string records hold in a range of binary code possibilities. At least 1536 unique units, he calculates, comparable to the sign capacities of early cuneiform, Shang Chinese ideograms, and Egyptian and Mayan hieroglyphs. [v] Are these histories and narratives? Or as Solomon suggests, are they plans and records of entitlements and obligations in a complex sets of interlinked social worlds at various levels of organization and agency? USE DIFFERENT PARTS OF SENSORIUM TO GRASP DIFFERENT VARIABLES Salomon points out “the fact that data can be formulated as speech is not the point. The quipocamayo process would have compacted social process into an impressively data-dense medium whose clarity did not depend on expansion into words.” (Salomon 2001:266) In chapter after chapter Solomon teaches us how to understand in detail a highly complex and multiply embedded Andean system of social organization, • both hierarchical but

also contingently collective among possible groupings; one with • different kinds of interactivities possible with each range of connection in attention, as well as • altered in cycles that do not recur in any simple way; and one • always imperfectly “known,” in any time period, to any set of people, both cooperative but also idiosyncratic. He calls khipu in this context “reciprocity made visible” (279), but means by this something more variantly sensible than vision as they “allow one to use different parts of the sensorium for grasping the different variables.” (281) WHAT DO KHIPU HAVE TO TEACH US ABOUT LEARNING AND UNLEARNING, AS WELL AS ABOUT COMPLEXITY AND COGNITION? WHAT SORT OF THING-NESS AND TIME-NESS DO WE INHABIT WITH THEM? Khipu knowledges today are created, shared, demonstrated, used, and stored in many writing technological forms: not only monographs, books, conference talks, but also websites, databases, images, exhibitions, reenactments, television documentaries, tourist and heritage tours, sites and festivals, as well as village and kinship ritual work processes. Gender and nationality, ethnicity and race, indigenous politics and university restructuring, all play roles in such systems entangled as current processes of globalization. We could call this plethora a kind of "transmedia storytelling" involving transdisciplinary knowledge makings: both extensive inspections and intensive collaborations, across platforms and knowledge worlds. (King 2010 [2008]; Anderson et al. 2009; BeynonDavies 2007; 2009; 2012; Lechtman 2010; Bongen & Karahalios 2009; and others linked on my Pinterest site) KHIPU DESIGN FICTIONS, SHARING AGENCY WITH US AS WE THINK BOTH WITH THEM AND ABOUT THEM “How do you entangle design, science, fact and fiction in order to create this practice called ‘design fiction’ that, hopefully, provides different, undisciplined ways of envisioning new kinds of environments, artifacts and practices.... Design Fiction is making things that tell stories. It’s like science-fiction in that the stories bring into focus certain matters-of-concern, such as how life is lived, questioning how technology is used and its implications, speculating bout the course of events; all of the unique abilities of science-fiction to incite imagination-filling conversations about alternative futures. ...It’s meant to encourage truly undisciplined approaches to making and circulating culture by ignoring disciplines that have invested so much in erecting boundaries between pragmatics and imagination.” (Bleecker 2009)

Some references [more online]:
• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • Ascher, M., & Ascher, R. (1978). Code of the Quipu: Databooks I and II. http://instruct1.cit.cornell.edu/research/quipu-ascher/ Ascher, M., & Ascher, R. (1981). Code of the quipu: a study in media, mathematics, and culture. Ann Arbor: U Michigan. Bleecker, J. (2009). “Design Fiction: A Short Essay on Design, Science, Fact and Fiction.” http://nearfuturelaboratory.com/2009/03/17/design-fiction-a-shortessay-on-design-science-fact-and-fiction/ Bongen, K. A., & Karahalios, K. G. (2009). “Photo Khipu: Organizing a Public Record of Social Transaction.” Paper presented at the CHI 2009 ~ Spotlight on Works in Progress ~ Session 2. See online project at: http://social.cs.uiuc.edu/projects/photokhipu.html Boone, E. H., & Mignolo, W. (Eds.). (1994). Writing without words: alternative literacies in Mesoamerica and the Andes. Durham: Duke. Bowker, G. C., & Star, S. L. (1999). Sorting things out: classification and its consequences. Cambridge: MIT. Brokaw, G. (2010a). “Indigenous American Polygraphy and the Dialogic Model of Media.” Ethnohistory, 57(1), 117-133. Brokaw, G. (2010b). A history of the khipu. New York: Cambridge UP. Brown, J. P. (2011). “‘touch in transit’: Manifestation / Manifestación in Cecilia Vicuña’s cloud-net.” Contemporary Women’s Writing, 5(3), 208-231. See artist site online: http://www.ceciliavicuna.org/ Haraway, D. (2011). “SF: Science Fiction, Speculative Fabulation, String Figures, So Far: The Pilgrim Award Speech.” Talk and Video online. http://people.ucsc.edu/~haraway/PilgrimAward.html Klein, J. T. (2004b). “Prospects for transdisciplinarity.” Futures, 36(4), 515-526. Latour, B. (1993 [1991]). We have never been modern. Cambridge: Harvard. Lechtman, H. (2010). “Murra at MIT: In Memoriam.” Chungara, Revista de Antropología Chilena, 42(1), 19-23. http://www.scielo.cl/scielo.php?pid=S071773562010000100005&script=sci_arttext Murra, J. V. (1989 [1962]). “Cloth and Its Function in the Inka State.” In A. B. Weiner & J. Schneider (Eds.), Cloth and human experience (pp. 275-302). Washington: Smithsonian Institution. Salomon, F. (2001). “How an Andean ‘Writing Without Words’ Works.” Current Anthropology, 42(1), 1-27. Salomon, F. (2004). The cord keepers: khipus and cultural life in a Peruvian village. Durham: Duke. Schmandt-Besserat, D. (1992). Before writing. Austin: U Texas. Urton, G. (2003). Signs of the Inka Khipu: binary coding in the Andean knotted-string records. Austin: U Texas. Urton, G., & Quilter, J. (Eds.). (2002). Narrative threads: accounting and recounting in Andean Khipu. Austin: U Texas.

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