Aaron M. Moe

Assistant Professor of English at Saint Mary's College, Notre Dame


In the beginning was the gesture, for prior to speaking in that cosmological moment, God framed the formless void with ponderous hands, narrowed his eyes, leaned forward, and by the time he inhaled, the darkness had already shuddered. Even as he spoke, it was the gestures carrying the words that created the light. Not the words themselves.

Animals gesture; therefore, they are.

Every word—spoken or written—is always already embedded in a gesture.

The origin of a word lies not in an etymological root, but in the elemental forces of the earth and of the body.

The Big Bang was, in actuality, a collective gesture of the gods.

When a gesture conflicts with the meaning of a word, we believe the gesture.

The writer, as a cyborg, engages a technological interface as she or he envisions the typographical gestures on the other side. That “other side” has been rock; parchment (the skin of a dead cow); or better, vellum (the skin of a dead baby cow); the live skin of a body (tattoos); the fibers of a tree; the sides of buildings & train cars; and only lately, a digitized screen. Myriad technological innovations have shaped how humans write, but a unifying drive beneath these endeavors is a passion to deliver a particular word in just the right way for the given context of that word. There is something primal in these endeavors. But regardless, we are mistaken if we think digital compositions are unique. A monk, creating an illuminated, inhabited letter over the faint follicles still present in the parchment, has just as much commitment to delivery as the graphic designers working on a new logo for Starbucks. The problem, though, lies in schools. We prescribe the delivery of an essay, rather than teaching students to think critically (and historically) about the fifth canon of rhetoric.

Make no mistake about it. Times New Roman, Size 12 Font, Double-spaced, 1” Margins is a hoax. It is an attempt to displace words from the body and into the cerebral realm of “thought.” Concerning this, the student wryly smiled, “In the attempt to efface the gesture, the words still needed a body, and academic prose is still a type of gesture.” “But that is the crux,” the teacher cut in. She leaned forward—hands poised, palms down, as if padding the silence into which she’d speak—and said, “By making it habitual they have straight-jacketed the body, and rightfully so. Unleash the body and there’s no telling what language might do . . . where language might go.”

The poet (Whitman, Dickinson, Cummings, Stein) as a cyborg, is obsessed with the gestures of a text.

The horse whisperer. O feebleness of language!—; innumerable nuances of gesture seem effaced by the synecdochal stand of the whisper. What we have yet to reconcile is that interspecies interaction hinges on the fifth canon of rhetoric. It is a dialogue between bodies.

Vocalization is not the incarnation of a disembodied word. The word already exists in the body.

We are taught to view a word printed on a page has something immaterial, when it is the materiality of it all that we respond to most. Why else will corporations spend so much money on the delivery of a word over the word itself?

The reader said to the poet, “Why don’t I understand.” He replied, “You no longer read with your body.”

Music, architecture, graphic design, poetry, the totality of apparel—all live or die by the art of delivery.

Proteus is never asleep in language. He may be bound and gagged in every syllable, in every sound shaped by the infinite interactions in what we call the mouth, but he is still awake. What you feel pressing in a word—the word’s weight, heft, its seeming motion—is none other than Proteus straining towards revolt.

The tattoo returns the text to its origin.


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All this work by Aaron Moe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at http://aaronmoe.com.