Escritura Diagramática de Johanna Drucker

Last Friday the 10th of September, I was invited to present the Spanish translation of Johanna Drucker book Diagrammatic Writing; translation by Ana Cecilia Medina. You can download the translation for free here ( Spanish, PDF).

It was an honor for me to present Johanna book, a dream I would say. Thanks a lot to Ana Medina for this invitation.

Also thanks to Centro de Cultura Digital in Mexico city for this initiative “Hibridaciones y Remediaciones. Jornadas de edición digital, an event that gather specialists, artist and academics, to share their experience and knowledge about digital editions. Thanks Monica Nepote, Ximena Atristain, Juan Tovar, Canek Zapata and all the staff behind, that made this event possible.

This initiative presented two books translations, Diagrammatic writing by Johanna Druker and Does writing have a future? by Vilem Fusser. You can download both for free in the CCD website.

Finally, but not the least, the CCD presented, as well, Julio Torri national award for short storytelling and digital literature. This is the first time, the grant add digital literature formats. The winner of the digital literature Julio Torri grand was for El grito que no puedo escuchar by Marco Antonio Arellano Arredondo. You can check all the fantastic mentions and the winner piece in this repository.


Before the presentation Ana proposed us to answer four questions previous to the conversation. I found interesting to develop a brief presentation for the first question. Maybe I was a bit enthusiastic from my part; but I found important as well to talk about the materiality of the text in the Old-non-digital media, as it was part of my master study “The city is a text ” (2013). Some of the examples of this answer are a coming from those times; some other have been adding later by researching in fields of book history, avant gard artist and electronic literature. Thanks to Scott Retberg for his book ” Electronic Literature” where he condensed a lot examples on the field of Electronic literature.

It was no possible for me to be more precise due time. My apologize and feel free to contact me if you have any argue, concern doubt and so for.

Also, some other questions [2,3,4] were answer in such spontaneous and organic way, like any conversation. Still, I find valuable resources and information to share that were not mentioned in the record.


  1. From its first publication until today, in what ways do you consider that the conventions / possibilities of the spatiality of the text on the screen have been multiplied or modified? Where do you find examples that can be read from the hand of what this book exposes?

I don’t  think there are new forms. I think the “text” is coming back to old textual forms, like  the Ouroborus, the text is eating itself. It is a social cultural process that has been happening, pushed by the same historical process that we have been living in for the last 80 years, at least. José Luis Brea in his book Cultura Ram describes in detail about this historical process, focusing on the cultural production of knowledge.

There are a lot of examples from diverse cultures, in diverse periods of times where the text displays and performs in different ways. Computation is a way to imitate, combine and optimize the great heritage and possibilities for what reading and writing means. Sure this is modifying our production and consumption of knowledge. By this, I mean that these innovative approaches for reading and writing, conceptually, are grounded in previous human experiences. The result of these innovative forms are having a tremendous impact in our cultural and social life. 

Our notion of writing/reading has been attached to the codex book forms as a way to store and render information. And it is based on some phonetic character systems in the western cultures. But, as History has shown us,  the text goes beyond any system or materiality, because it adapts.

For example, iconographic reading such as emoticons or memes can find a tradition in hieroglyphs or in rebus.


Egyptian hieroglyphs: Bee, leaf, sea and sun
Paul Rand “IBM”, 1981

Some other image reading systems, such as Tarot cards, is an image reading system with  some sort of spontaneous – random methodology for reading and writing, such as randomization processes in programming. [Image 2]  Or  in the Mustus liber , that was some sort of treat of alchemy with  non text at all . There is only one text that works as a guide  that said “Ora, Lege, Lege, Lege, Relege, Labora et Invenies”, (pray, read, read, read, reread, work and you will find). In the book, Jacobo Siruela in his book, Libro , secretos talk about the mysterious history behind this treat. He also provides a visual analysis and interpretation of this ancient book.

Think about the authorship of the Bible and the Coran as a Participatory writing or reading experience or strategy. All the development of Christianity thanks to the copyist and enlighters monks working in the scriptorium.  Katherine Hayley in her book Electronic literature :New Horizons for the Literary develops a fantastic introduction around the meeting between those monks and the machine.  

Scriptorium or atelier

Hypertext has a huge tradition in books, for instance all the para textual apparatus that happened since the scroll book. Imagine yourself reading Cortazar’s book Hopscotch in those scrolls. It would be a tedious interaction to change between scrolls and roll on and off to get the experiences that the codex book offers in a much easier way.  So the same materiality of the object is asking you how to read and write the text. The text adapts to the materiality of the content. It is a line to follow, a discourse, a thought, a pray, etc. 

[Image 5] When we think about procedural writing, generative systems, algorithms (rules),  to provoke writing and reading experiences. We should take a look in the vast tradition of avant gard artists such as Augusto de Campos, Ulises Carrión, Douglas Huebler, Clemente Padín,  Wlademir Dias-Pino and the poema/proceso; and much more poets and writers, that  conceptually, were doing some sort of analog version of all this experimentation. 

[Image 6] Constrained writing  such as the Oulipo group; combinatory writing like the surrealist: randomization techniques such as William Buroughts techniques and so on. 

 [Image 7] So, when we ask what is “new” about the text in our fancy shining display or in our fantastic and virtuoso “virtual reality“  headset  or any other electronic device around. Please do consider that this media is ubiquitous. You can find it in wearable, objects or in displays. And so, the main concern is What are the features of this new media? The most accurate term  that I have found for what is better known as New media (that is already old); or Digital media, that by the way  it doesn’t imply only digits at all. It is the term named by John Cayley,  The networked and programmable media.

Sensorama , primer intento de intentar una virtualidad 1957

So by understanding the natural ubiquity of electronic devices and its features as media. The only thing new in the text is your life. But you are still reading from left to right, top to bottom . You have a physical sense of gravity and balance;  you organize, gather , yuxtopse elements. Sure this is not an absolute rule.  But as life, the space is a relative dimension. 

Flusser bird, the metaphor mentioned during the round table about the translation of Vilém Flusser’s book “Tiene futuro la escritura?”[ Does writing have a future?]  Anahi Re and Eugenio Tiselli presented a feathered being that has a 180 vision looking to both sides. Tiselli argued that one eye is looking to the linearity of the text —or the past— and the other eye is looking at the hope of breaking the linearity of the text — the future— . I would like to add that the bird is looking to the past and future at one glance but flying belongs to the present, otherwise Imagine!  Then the main concern is How does this bird flies? Flying is a verb that is happening right now. It is about doing and flowing.  And so, this is how I would like to place Johana’s work, as practice, researching on doing.

Diagrammatic writing honors this writing knowledge tradition, first by experimenting or doing. Next, by using and combining diverse writing conventions from different periods of times. Relational visual features such as hierarchy, interlinearity, size,  juxtaposition or proximity dialog with the semantic of the text.  This creates a continuous flow of thoughts between the practice of and the theory of writing. 

Johanna Drucker “Diagramatics” Korean translation by Choi Sulki 2019

As somebody that has been drawing in a different ways, I  have always found the text similar to the act of drawing . You start by a point and follow the line. Your line has a will and purpose, even if you refuse to have one.

Guido de Boer “Image letter” 2019
Ache APC “Pichoglifo” Colombia

Please check more about literary arts practices in the Electronic Literature Organization collections


  1. From the quote “Translation is a powerful method of expanding and deepening our universe” by V. Flusser. What universes do you think are expanding with the translation of this book?

For editorial designers and book workers this book is a poem. 

It manifests beauty, it causes  and flows around the form and content. It performs what it means. It means what it says.  (An elephant’s faithful one-hundred percent!)

In the context of Mexico city, the independent art book fanzine scene, an ebullient scene that is full of projects so different such as la Duplicadora, Red de distribución Vicente Guerrero, Tlacuilos library,  Productora de Mapeos narrativos, Nicolas Pradilla, Pachiclon, Santiago Solis, Selva Hernández, Alejandro Magallanes, Marina Garone, Isabela Galindo,  Cristobal Henestrosa, Mauricio Rivera, Rodolfo Mata  and the big a long list of independent publishing houses, artist, designer, academics, poets, writers and vagabonds that love book practices. 
I am sure they will devour this book . 

As with any other book, It is difficult to predict what the translation of  any book  might cause in the curious and imaginative minds of any reader-creator. 

The question about the translation is what has changed in you Ana and Astrid Stoppen [ the designer ] ?  Because  translation  is a creative process. And this book implies a translation and a remediation, where  both, textual and design practice, need to find a solution.  For instance, in the korean translation of the book the translator commented that they have had to adapt some words  in order to fit to the complexity of the korean language  

I have not read Flusser, so far .  So  I  don’t feel  comfortable talking about it.


  1. What changed in your practice as a designer as you approached Drucker’s ouvre? How do you position this publication within the Spanish-speaking practices of literature and art in the media (if literature can be separated from the other arts)?

My practice as a designer is in general terms attached to my practice as a creator. By this I mean as a teacher, researcher , workshop leader, artist and as myself Vinicius. Johana oeuvre has an impact in all those practices by remembering my love for visual culture with her argument around her book Graphesis:  the study of visual production of knowledge. that was my first approach to her oeuvre-

The more I look into the history of  visual production of knowledge, conceptually, I have realized  there is nothing new under the blue sky. But as visual communicators we need to educate a critical perspective around what it presents or enact as an argument or visual statement for the sake of any hegemonic power; specially in the time where big corporations tend to concentrate more and flatten humanistic knowledge production.

As Johana said: Most information visualization are acts of interpretations masquerading as presentation. In other words, they are images that act as if they are just showing us what is, but in actuality, they are arguments made in graphical form.

From this perspective, as visual researcher and academic, Johana works mirror the call of the digital humanities agenda around the globe that it is demanding for nounce and relative  visual knowledge production. What a brave challenge in the time where universities  are taking the role of companies and humanistic knowledge is bypassed for business, technical and scientific knowledge.

Belgium according Belgium . A lion . I have never seen a lion in Europe still I love this imaginative map .

  1. The language of the book exposes in a very simple way (syntactically) complex and historical issues in relation to the book and writing, in this “Taoist” tension they believe that the future of theoretical / academic writing lies in integrating / flowing towards other forms of writing simpler in their apparent form?

Sure it will, it is already happening , for instance  the born-digital-essays   in The Digital Review (2020) where you can find  pieces  such as The Gate by Eugenio Tiselli.  Walking experiences  by the “Home of walking writers” ( Babak Fakhamzadeh, Geert Vermeire and Andrew Stuck.)  They have been organizing non-locative meetings  to walk, think and create or write; This a fantastic time to experiment pedagogics and writing. 

Also I remember Sophie, by Bob Stein, the Institute of the book and  the University of Southern California that in the late 2000s proposed a collective multimedia writing platform. 

Recently in Mexico city , artist  Pedro Reyes launched “Tlacuilos ” , which is a library that shares books and plastic ouvres via Instagram. You don’t even need to show your own ID.  The project uses the network as a platform for distribution of knowledge. 

The production of knowledge and our notion of culture is changing as well.  We are living an historical process,  the fourth industrial revolution and  the 6th extinction, This is  demanding  for resilience,  adaptation, imagination and innovative solution

The pandemic just pushed us forward  the  transmutation to a new era and also made more evident  how wrong we have been doing. 

As Rossi Bradotti suggested in the introduction of her book Posthuma knowledge Neoliberalism has  been placing  academics  and humanists in some sort of absurd competition  that is bypassing humanistic critical knowledge for some others interest 

It is time to take advantage of the network  and gather together as human  beings, besides our culture and language differences. Can we? Are we able to reach some sort of agreement?


Bibliography:

Brea, Jose Lúis (2007) Cultura Ram. Barcelona : Gedisa.

Borsuk, Amarantha (2018). The book. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press

Cayley, Jhon 1998. (2018)”Grammalepsy: Essays on Digital Language Art ” New York : Bloomsbury Academic

Hayles, Katherine .2008. “Electronic Literature: New Horizons for the Literary ” Indiana, USA: University of Notre Dame Press

Siruela, Jacobo (2015) Libro, Secretos . Ed Atalanta, Girona, España.

Rettberg, Scott. (2019). Electronic Literature.Cambridge, UK : Polity.

Drucker, Johanna (2014) Graphesis: Visual Forms of Knowledge Production, USA:Harvard press