Graphetics: When mark-making becomes writing

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Graphetics is the study of how one recognizes text, and how one differentiates it from other marks and drawings, for example when one views a manuscript and has to decide ‘is this writing or just scribble?’. This article focuses on the pragmatics of graphetics and on the (philosophical) complexity of differentiating graphs into linguistic and non-linguistic content, i.e. the difference between seeing and reading. Deciding the identity of marks when interpreting manuscript sources is sometimes problematic, and this article takes some examples from the project to digitize Wittgenstein’s manuscripts, which are especially relevant because he conducts thought-experiments with imaginary letterforms and other ciphers. The method used in this article is a reductive graphological or pragmatic graphetic analysis of the manuscript source. The results of the enquiry are threefold: that all manuscripts should be assumed to be graphical until textual content is discovered (which is the opposite of the normal assumptions about manuscripts by philologists); that ‘being graphical’ is a property not of appearance but of structure; and that a clear differentiation between text and graphics is not always possible. The author believes that the conclusions are fundamental to our interpretation of two-dimensional media, i.e. the differentiation of modes of communication. However, when looking so closely at a problem (letter by letter, mark by mark) it is sometimes difficult to maintain the reader’s awareness of the broader context in which the problem has significance. The latter is an intrinsic problem of the so-called ‘close-reading’ approach in hermeneutics and is relevant to most doctoral/postdoctoral researchers.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13-28
Number of pages16
JournalDrawing: Research, Theory, Practice
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2018


  • text encoding
  • textual interpretation
  • writing
  • reading
  • image
  • drawing


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