[publication of graduation essay by Marieke Berghuis 2012]
“Pharmakon: De magie van het schrift” is a thesis about the connection between the material world and the world of writing. This thesis investigates the question in two parts: the effect symbolic signs have on us as well as the effect of the manual activity of writing/drawing itself on the writer.
In Plato’s book Phaedrus, Sokrates tells a story of the Egyptian Pharaoh Thamus who is visited by the god Hermes, or Toth. Hermes is the alleged inventor of writing, and offers his invention to Thamus as a cure (‘pharmakon’) for memory. The king refuses the gift, believing writing would rather be poison (‘pharmakon’) to the memory, since memory needs to be trained. Without training their memory people will remember only by mere virtue of an external device. This story is firstly about writing, but the word ‘pharmakon’ also provides the key in this research’ conclusion. ‘Pharmakon’ means at the same time cure and poison. This ambiguity and lack of unequivocality is what renders writing, drawing or mark making, in a sense magical. In focusing on the performative act of writing or drawing, I found that artists such as On Kawara and Hanne Darboven, and writers such as Franz Kafka, Robert Walser and Walter Benjamin, created a certain beneficial rhythm for themselves by the manual, repetitive movements of painting, drawing or writing.
My research is illustrated by the personal story of me taking notes in a courtroom. Security guards removed me from the public gallery and confiscated my drawings for inspection as they posed a security problem. That was the starting point of a lengthy exchange of letters to discover the rule or regulation I had violated. Eventually, I was told that as long as the authorities knew what I was doing, could understand or read what I scribbled on the paper, there would have been no problem. My notes however, being illegible to the authorities and made without a clear-cut, understandable purpose, rendered my presence disruptive.
Download thesis: De Magie van Het Schrift
[image from graduation show and essay of Marieke Berghuis][www.mariekeberghuis.nl]