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unclear, although

People often ask me what inspires me, and my answer is always “anything.” I can be struck at any moment by any image, phrase or thought that will cause my mind to leap from one thing to the next in a realm of creative possibilities.

Recently, I received a package containing a very nice present. The present was duly considered, admired and appreciated for all of its wonderful attributes, but it was something in the packaging which sparked that inspiration node in my brain.


I, like many people, am a sucker for found texts. There are a number of websites devoted to found letters, notes and other scraps hosted and contributed to by people like myself who cannot resist the beckoning flutter of an abandoned note found on the street. When handwritten, it is personal and enigmatic, but when commercially printed it tends to lose its interest … that is, until it’s dismembered. What is it about words, ripped from their original context, that seem to have some personal message or meaning? They are unclear, although it seems that it is this very fact that makes them speak to us all the more.

It is well known that we are able to construct meaning from surprisingly incomplete words. Our ability to piece together what’s missing from the familiar forms of language is remarkable. We recognize part of the words or letterforms, and we anticipate the rest. There is always a slight feeling of triumph in having guessed at something uncertain, as though we recognize the extreme cleverness of the human brain to solve the visual puzzle.

Some of these word scraps remind me of those famous typographic exercises by Robert Brownjohn—and now often used in classrooms—to express a word by a visual expression of the word. Words masquerade as themselves.

A single, ominous word has a myriad of tales to tell. My mind leaps to matters of the heart, darkness of thought and ill character rather than bottles of liquid or demarcation tape.

Do not cry? Do not cross? Do not create? Each possibility suggests a story around the potential text. The disembodied words become a voice speaking to us from a shadowy network, and like a throw of the I Ching, or the intonations of an oracle, we read meaning into the words as they relate to us at that moment. I view horoscopes, fortune cookies and other manufactured indications of my character or future with the same attention as these scraps: as randomly generated words which either pluck at my identity or are discarded as nonsense.

This idea of a voice in the words makes them seem almost like messages from the beyond. As I rifled through the box of shred, phrases and parts of words emerged as though the box itself was engaging in the Surrealist act of automatic writing. As anthropromorphic as this is—a box, after all, has neither consciousness nor a subconscious—someone made these writings, and someone shredded them. Coherent thought was processed through the selection and arrangement of words, printed and then shredded and delivered to me unprocessed and unarranged: what am I to make of this thought shrapnel?

As it happened, I recognized the typography, and a casual enquiry lead me to the source—not only of the exact shredded material (which I have a copy of, but didn’t look at for fear of breaking the spell), but the shredder herself. I don’t own a shredding machine, I have never shredded, but I was curious whether these fragments could hold any interest for the person who made them. I emailed Fiona Drenttel, to ask. Fiona, by the way, is almost nine.

Fiona told me that, indeed, she had been very interested in the shred, and that she would take handfuls of it from a big garbage bag and look at the pieces one by one—on both sides—and set aside anything that seemed interesting. She then made poetic art constructions with them, in a kind of solitaire version of another Surrealist game, the exquisite corpse. I was surprised that someone so young would have this interest, but Fiona assured me that her fascination with found words extends much farther back. She said, “When I was two we were making collage pumpkins out of colored paper and I turned the paper over and saw writing on the other side and thought it was much more interesting.” Further, she said, “I think that things that you can actually read are better than things that you can not read.” Regarding the pumpkin with the added words, she described it as “more than just a pumpkin it is a WORDKIN.”

I wondered also how long Fiona’s interest in this medium might last. Surely, after some point, the novelty of shredding material must fade? But she told me she is far from being over shred, and added, with almost heroic emphasis, “I look forward to the next time I am called upon to make shred…it’s my annual job!”

Myself, I look forward to the next time I recieve shred. Particularly when it is made by such a fellow enthusiast for the inspiration of words, and the new meaning that can be created from something that falls, quite literally, and unexpectedly, into your lap.

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PUBLISHED ON Mar.05.2007 BY marian bantjes
Unnikrishna Menon Damodaran’s comment is:

Metathesis reaction and serendipitious nature of words.
Very often we ignore these simlilar situations in our daily life.
But not Marian.
A post with a completely different subject.
Yet, graphic and typographic.
What more i can expect on a saudi arabian monday afternoon?

On Mar.05.2007 at 06:58 AM
pesky’s comment is:

Little Fiona almost sounds like the reincarnation of Tristan Tzara. She aready has poetic curiosity.

Tzara who inspired Brion Gysin who inspired William Burroughs in the cut-up technique of novel writing books like "Naked Lunch".

here are some random robopoet generators for fun:



What a great thing. Thanks, Marian.

On Mar.05.2007 at 07:44 AM
KevinHopp’s comment is:

God is in the details.

Great post Marian!

On Mar.05.2007 at 12:25 PM
Su’s comment is:

To follow up on Pesky, you might have some fun with travesty generators(here's one) or DadaDodo. They're great for when you're bored of lipsum.

On Mar.05.2007 at 01:34 PM
Randy J. Hunt’s comment is:

Those red Fedra monos have made it neither above nor below the fold at a house this winter.

On Mar.06.2007 at 01:57 AM
pesky’s comment is:

Randy, you wanna upstage the kid?

:::little Fiona, holding her glued-up paper plate poem and frowning, gets dragged offstage by a long hook from behind the velvet curtain:::

oh great....Marian is gonna kick your ass now, brother...

(just joking, my friend)

On Mar.06.2007 at 10:07 AM
Bryony’s comment is:

And so it is that Lady Fiona lives in a castle under the fold, where as a lucky girl her toys are words instead of plastic blonds, and her delight is found in torn paper and not so much in the mall.

This is one very lucky girl.

On Mar.06.2007 at 03:31 PM
Lorenzo’s comment is:

Wow, made me think about my kid!

It is absolutely fascinating to see a young person act on what he or she is thinking at that moment, as clichéd as it may sound. Only then does it really make me realize how I can sometimes take things for granted.

On Mar.07.2007 at 12:16 AM
Randy J. Hunt’s comment is:

No kidding, Bryony. Damn lucky.

I can barely fathom the thought of responsibility for a child and their development, but what I do know, is "play" that's this sophisticated is deeply inspiring.

Pesky, I know, I know. It was just some maven-ness seeping out unnecessarily.

On Mar.07.2007 at 07:20 PM
Pesky’s comment is:

Mr. Hunt, now don't go picking on Design Maven.(I'm smiling here, but I refuse to use those idiotic smiley face icons) He has a style all his own and an encyclopedic mind for design history second to none... upstaging a little kid is different, n'est-il pas? (But your previous point about "play" is very true.)

On Mar.08.2007 at 10:34 AM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

I’m inspired by things in my mailbox. (Should I be insulted that people never ask me what inspires me?)

On Mar.09.2007 at 07:59 AM
Ed’s comment is:

I too am inspired by the things in Gunnar's mailbox...

On Mar.09.2007 at 09:52 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

I too am inspired by the things in Gunnar's mailbox...

Which is why I try to keep Ed away from my underwear drawer.

On Mar.10.2007 at 06:35 PM
marian bantjes’s comment is:

For the record, there is absolutely no connection between me and Gunnar's underwear drawer.

On Mar.10.2007 at 07:35 PM
Ed’s comment is:

Gunnar- unless your mailbox doubles as your underwear drawer then you won't have to worry about that...

On Mar.10.2007 at 09:32 PM