Emma Cocker - Close Reading / Live Writing

(an ongoing series of investigations at the edges of language) 

Close Reading is an ongoing series of investigations in which I apply close visual attention to language, looking at the materiality of words ‘close up’ through processes of visual magnification, microscopic observation. Through the practice of close reading, language can be made to stretch or pucker, ruche or fray. With experience, it can be pulled thin and sheer as delicate gauze or gathered up into thick and impenetrable creases. Under scrutiny, text can be pressured into its component parts (of ink and page), the sense or legibility of a word rendered nonsensical the closer it is attended to, as writing slips towards image, as meaning dissipates into pleats and folds.

This ongoing series of works plays on the practice of close reading or of explication de texte as a critical tool for destabilizing the linear unfolding of a text into discontinuous fragments. Close Reading investigates how paying close attention to language does not always fix or clarify a single, stable meaning, but perhaps counter-intuitively produces further uncertainty, indeterminacy and formlessness. Here, the more something becomes scrutinized the less it becomes known.

Like conventional forms of close reading, this work focuses on paying attention to individual words and the order in which sentences and ideas unfold as they are read or presented, drawing on the Latin origins of the word explicare which means to unfold, to fold out, to set forth. However, critical attention is not paid to the meaning of words themselves as signs, but to those other meanings produced by looking at the materiality of words ‘close up’, through processes of visual magnification or microscopic observation. This research enquiry is concerned with pushing or pressuring language beyond the regime of signification, in order to explore the affective and asignifying potential ( or perhaps even poetics) of textual fragments.

Close Reading inhabits the space between page and screen, existing as a series of short video works and composite poems constructed (almost through chance) from screen-grabs gleaned from the video editing process. I am uncertain whether the video is a byproduct or residue of the production of the text or vice versa, or whether both produce and are produced by each other simultaneously. As a writer, I am increasingly interested in the discrepancy between the temporal and spatial dimensions of writing, where the time that it takes to write words is condensed into the space that they occupy once ordered into line. The wrestle of how the words got there is often forgotten.

Close Reading takes the temporal event of a text unfolding before a camera, and collapses it into the spatial form of a page. The translation from moving image to still reveals an entirely different grammar to that encountered in the video. The movement or unfolding of the video is pushed back as though behind the surface of the page, perhaps still imaginable as a loop stitch whose content remains latent within the work, rather than a visible part. Through these close readings, the time of reading one text becomes folded into the space of making another. 

Emma Cocker, Close Readings. The Close Readings (above) have been generated in response to different contexts and invitations to contribute 'text', and consist of readings of differnt text (1) Close Reading (C.O.P.V); (2) Close Reading (G.D.T.F); (3) Close Reading (L.I + H.C). Close Reading (C.O.P.V) exists as a text work and as a video.

Images - from top left clockwise: (1) Emma Cocker, Close Reading, presented as part of Marbled Reams, (2) Close Reading, presented as part of COPY//unfold, (3) Documentation of Emma Cocker, Seers-in-Residence, a project by Traci Kelly, Bonington Gallery, Nottingham.

Performing Process

The 'form' that this body of enquiry takes has gradually shifted from the production of 'works' - whether the single page Close Reading 'poems' (e.g. presented as part of projects such as Tom Godfrey's Marbled Reams, the COPY publication FOLD/UNFOLD [see above], or as part of I AM NOT A POET, Total Kunst, Edinburgh) or single channel videos (See Close Reading C.O.P.V, 1950, 2012) - towards the performing of the process as a live event. The performing of the process of Close Reading and also of Live Writing, was initiatlly tested as part of my involvement the Seers-in-Residence project, Bonington Gallery, Nottingham, 2013 >>

(more to follow)

Black and White photographic documentation of Seers-in-Residence: Julian Hughes.

< Live Writing/Liquid Words: A not-yet language for reflecting on the not-quite-seen or captured, for remaining faithful to the experience of something glimpsed. In the flick and skim of both writing and reading, words themselves are not always distinguishable as discrete signifying units but instead appear liquid, their sense indeterminate, meaning blurred.


“The essence of language is to be articulated. Such articulations can be as smooth as one wishes; they are no less divisive for all that. In order to language to function, signs must be isolable one from the other (otherwise they would not be repeatable). At every level (phonetic, semantic, syntactic, and so on) language has its own laws of combination and continuity, but its primary material is constructed of irreducible atoms (phonemes for spoken language, and for written, signs whose nature varies according to the system in question: in alphabetic writing, for example, the distinctive unit is the letter). Whoever says ‘articulation’ always says, in the final instance, ‘divisible into minimal units’: the articulus is the particle. Language is the hierarchical combination of bits. Liquid, on the contrary … is indivisible” Yve Alain Bois, 'Liquid Words', in Formless: A Users Guide, Zone Books, p124