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– talk website: http://affectdesign.blogspot.com/ ; pinterest site: http://pinterest.com/katkingumd/khipus/ Katie King, Women's Studies, University of Maryland, College Park/Email: email@example.com 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) • “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) SF – scientifiction, science fiction, speculative fiction, speculative feminisms, science communication and fabulation, wormholes & the plasticities of embedded realities – ecological across systems and multiplicities, amid emergent self-organizing agencies
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, sometimes in tacit collaboration, but here in perpendicular examination. 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.
DECOMPILING/COMPILING RATHER THAN DECODING: I take Urton's project as an experimental site to wonder about our current knowledge making practices around what we variously understand under the apparently simple terms "reading" and "writing." Rather than those often internally collapsed terms, 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." Between machine language and "high-level" language a decompiler produces a finite set of transformations, beginning with one and ending with the other (either compiling or decompiling, telescoping in either direction).
SPECULATING, THEORIZING, STRINGING ALONG WITH URTON Urton explores what materials we have on Andean string records, looking for something(s) like this decompiler to make transformations from the seven-bit binary codes of the string records themselves to the high-level Quechua language of administration in the Inka empire, in order to begin an extended collective process in which he hopes with others 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] Urton believes this alternate set of transformations—comparable and contrasting with those analogic ones that translate string records into numerical accounts or into maps—might reveal histories and narratives. And the seven-bit binary codes of the khipu would not be read directly, not even if we had the 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 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. Urton thus makes it possible to use both operations specific to digital understanding (in either/or choices) and operations specific to analogic understanding (more like maps which draw analogies between territories and representations), not privileging one over the other or needlessly polarizing them. It is this kind of action that the game of cat's cradle is good for engaging. Theorists such as Walter Mignolo have properly criticized too easy, facile analogies with the Book in investigating New World "sign carriers."[viii] But this kind of particularism, being locally very specific, is not the only corrective for such errors; scholars still need analogically global terms in order to translate and theorize across and beyond communities of scholarly practice, between and beyond disciplines. Local and global do not have to be either/or intellectual choices; instead they can be disclosed and used as multiple and relational, layered and distributed. [ix] 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) 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-short-essayon-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 ). We have never been modern (C. Porter, Trans.). 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 ). 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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