writing direction influences spatial representation

Persons’ spatial representations of an action described verbally are biased in the spatial orientation of the action. Recent research indicates that a left-to-right bias develops from experience of a culture’s left-to-right writing system, and a right-to-left bias likewise from a right-to-left writing system.

The Morgan Bible of Louis IX and the Shahnameh of Shah Tahmasp, two magnificent books, illustrate this cultural effect. In the Morgan Bible:

The repetition of a figure moved rightward in a painting corresponds to temporal sequence. Figures generally enter a scene from the left, and exit to the right. Bringing Benjamin back and the repulsion of the Israelites are painted with predominate right-to-left directions of action. In these and other instances, the reversal of the visual convention of European text signals a spatial or conceptual reversal.

The Shahnameh, created in a Persian culture with a right-to-left writing convention, depicts action in the opposite direction:

Among the 258 figural paintings in the Shahnameh of Shah Tahmasp, on my count 70 of these to have a predominate horizontal line of action: 50 from right to left, and 20 from left to right. Left to right lines of action associated with reverse meanings include folio 42v (Faridun’s eldest son retreating), 98v (Turanians invading Iran), and 102v (retaliatory killing).

Writing systems are not neutral communications technology. Like any communications technology, they have a physical structure that generates particular sensory effects and representational biases.

Runaway Model available

I’m considering placing my sculptural masterpiece, Runaway Model, in a private collection. I have nothing against private collections. I’ve acquired from private collections several pieces that are in my apartment. I realize that many persons visit weekly private collections. Nonetheless, I would prefer to place my art in a leading public art gallery, such as the Tate or the Corcoran.

sculptural masterpiece

the future of mass culture

The decline of mass media doesn’t necessarily imply the decline of mass culture. Social networking services can create mass circulation without mass media. iLike, a music sharing application, acquired one million users on Facebook within a week of its introduction there. Observing that Paris Hilton was mentioned more often than Facebook, iPhone, and Google at a spring 2007 tech conference, a venture capitalist declared:

A bunch of blogs that I don’t read, like TMZ, are newly winning the traffic wars. What such sites generally have in common is that they don’t even have passing acquaintance with technology, geek-ish stuff, and early adopters. Instead, they are oriented toward the sort of inane pablum that fills supermarket glossies, 7pm TV shows, and such. They are, in other words, all about celebrities, gossip, and entertainment.

And that is, in a word, awesome. Why? Because it is unassailable evidence of the arrival of the web as mass, popular media.

Gossip and entertainment are primordial features of human societies. Celebrity across a human population of three hundred million persons is not. Whether new communications technologies will support celebrity or diffuse it remains an interesting question for analysis.