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The geography of the mind, mapped in place

In a way, any drawing that we create, is a kind of signature. Designing is demarcation. And the origin of the alphabet, stretching back 3,500 to 4,000 years ago, to the proto-sinaitic beginnings is, in fact, a signing of “place” — a description, of sorts, to the early interpretations and imaginings of the semite tribes that wandered, and worked, the Sinai peninsula and the parched lands and deserts of the ancient Levant.

Decades ago, when I first began the study of the alphabet, like many other scholars, looked for alignments in alphabetic drawing and the alliances and origins in language — alphabetic lexicography, perhaps? But there is a theory that the fertile delta that ranges from the eastern run of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, as well as the continuous spill of the Nile in Egypt, so too, the fluency of the Ganges, not only created the foundations of the civilizations of the Axial age (see Karen Armstrong’s take on this), but too, the intermingling of culture and content, civilization and spirituality. The Canaan, Sinai and Egyptian commercial engagements lent themselves to the borrowing of drawings and form words that spread throughout the ancient near east, as well as the coastal trading areas of the Mediterranean. And, too, they spread East. And this trading was defined in the character of the Phoenicians, the ancient Lebanese, the Turks, the Greeks.

But what’s more compelling, to me, to the conceptions of the alphabet, the story, the drawn and described place — is the idea of the alphabet as a kind of multiple scratching of meanings. For me, it is in the journey of meaning, there is the gesture of defining and describing an object, that then becomes a pictograph — a marked “picture”, with explanatory symbolism and finally, the idea of the picture, the meaning held within, and sound. It’s the layering — the describer — the scribing of idea in the rendered space, that holds to the deeper meaning of the alphabet. Perhaps, in the rhythm of the marked measure, there are archetypes in drawing; drawing from the imagination and the interpretation of nature and experience, that grows and builds, and expands and slides into larger expressions. Bigger ideas. Like the actual sense of place — made environments. Architecture.

So in a way, that opening image grouping from the aerial photographer, the architecture as a alphabetic marking on earth, it’s a sequence of drawings, ancient drawings coming from thousands of years back, that reach into antiquated searches for the articulation of meaning in defining and speaking to a sense of place. We create and mark our worlds; we make them.

As designers, as people equated with the story of brand, we seek that meaning out — if there’s something beneath the heart of enterprise, it’s a fired, sparked evocation that might have its very roots, thousands of years ago, the scribing of ideas, the mark the span of imagination.

What’s your take?

TSG | Decatur Island
A lover of the alphabet, and what lies within it

The origins of the alphabet


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