Ongoingness

The fol­low­ing is ex­tracted from on­go­ing­ness.space — a col­lec­tion of writ­ings on ongoingness’, housed in a dis­sected ver­sion of Robert Hooke’s draw­ing of a louse from Micrographia (1665). Rather than be­ing de­ter­mined as a sin­gu­lar de­f­i­n­i­tion, on­go­ing­ness is elab­o­rated as a qual­ity: a con­tin­u­ous, gen­er­a­tive way of op­er­at­ing. One that is non­lin­ear, trans­vers­ing, net­worked, and a/​mul­ti­tem­po­ral. The dis­persed hous­ing within the louse aimed to em­body this ap­proach.

The World Loanword Database (WOLD) pro­vides vo­cab­u­lar­ies of 41 lan­guages with com­pre­hen­sive in­for­ma­tion about the loan­word sta­tus of each word1. WOLD al­lows a con­sid­er­a­tion of the ge­nealog­i­cal sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween lan­guages, as well as the his­tor­i­cal mo­ments in which cer­tain lan­guages di­verged from one an­other. Loanwords, source words and donor lan­guages can be found, along with the pos­si­bil­ity of com­par­ing loan­words across lan­guages.2

WOLD is an evo­lu­tion of a com­par­a­tive lin­guis­tic prac­tice that tends to cul­mi­nate in lists that al­low a quan­tifi­ca­tion of the in­ter­con­nect­ed­ness of the lan­guages in­cluded: the Swadesh lists (1970s) are widely used lists of one hun­dred words cho­sen in­tu­itively for their uni­ver­sal­ity across lan­guages. From an analy­sis of WOLD arose the Leipzig-Jakarta list (2009), which pro­vided a one hun­dred word list of those words most re­sis­tant to lexical bor­row­ing’, a clas­si­fi­ca­tion that ap­plies to words that are adopted from one lan­guage to an­other with­out mod­i­fi­ca­tion, trans­fer­ring forms to­gether with mean­ings. These words are the most sta­ble, stub­born things, the least likely to be loaned out. What struck me was a re­cur­rence in all these lists — none of the ex­pected table-top­pers, such as I’ and you’, but, sit­ting so com­fort­ably, calm amongst the mess that has built up over the years — was that Creature so of­fi­cious, that twill be known to every one at one time or other, so busie, and so im­pu­dent, that it will be in­trud­ing it self in every ones com­pany, and so proud and as­pir­ing with­all, that it fears not to tram­ple on the best, and af­fects noth­ing so much as a Crown”3 as Robert Hooke sum­marised in Micrographia in 1665:

Louse.

Louse places joint 15th on the Leipzig-Jakarta list: the body louse and the head louse each has a bor­rowed score of 0.05 — the low­est in the se­man­tic field of Animals, along­side the nit and the fly.4

Louse is used as a means to con­tem­plate on­go­ing­ness, through­out plu­ral­ist, mul­ti­plic­i­tous, and mul­ti­ver­sal lunges, where mean­ing, when you look for it, seems to slip away. I’m un­der no im­pres­sion of louse as sta­ble or sin­gu­lar in mean­ing that can be re­vealed; no no­tion of dis­tinct essence on some unclick­able un­der­side. Though mean­ings may give a sense of them­selves when things cor­rupt.5

In or­der to slip around this char­ac­ter — the louse-fig­ure — it is worth delv­ing into the stan­dard de­f­i­n­i­tions of the word, in all its noun and verb forms6, to de­velop a num­ber of strands of lin­guis­tic look­ing that al­low for me­di­a­tions on the vary­ing meth­ods and trick­ery that con­sti­tute on­go­ing­ness (which op­er­ates across mul­ti­ple times).7

The first: louse as crea­ture, the wing­less par­a­site. The close-up, the mi­cro­scopic way in, a shell-like bul­bous­ness — a route to be fol­lowed, as to become an­i­mal is to par­tic­i­pate in move­ment, to stake out the path of es­cape in all its pos­i­tiv­ity… to find a world of pure in­ten­si­ties where all forms come un­done”.8 This kind of move­ment, the an­i­mal move­ment through pure in­ten­sity is one of speed, in which on­go­ing­ness is achieved through con­stantly be­ing on the move, speed be­ing to be caught in a be­com­ing that is not a de­vel­op­ment or an evo­lu­tion”9 — that an­i­mal drag­ging.10

The sec­ond: louse as a con­temptible or un­pleas­ant per­son, one who we have all en­coun­tered, who weasels their way into things and then seems to stick in the mind for nights af­ter­wards. Who touches sur­faces and leaves grease marks — this will be our sub­se­quent way of trac­ing them. This form of on­go­ing­ness can be on the haunted, per­sonal level — a tapping, tap­ping” 11, or a col­lec­tive ex­pe­ri­ence — a per­ceived con­tin­ual threat to cul­tural sta­bil­ity, which con­structs its own ac­tu­al­ity: the lin­ger­ing of racist/​an­ti­se­mitic be­liefs.

Finally, the Americanism: to louse as to spoil or ruin some­thing, which can come from the same al­to­gether con­temptible per­son — louse — or be par­tial, a one-off act of dis­rup­tion. To louse in this sense, is a dy­namic verb, one of ac­tion, rather than a sta­tive one: a state of be­ing that is best left with the con­temptible louse, ide­ally alone, lous­ing. Dynamic in­ci­dents of lous­ing, then, are one-off re­vealed ac­tions, which can be seen as dis­tinct, as dis­crete lump­ings of quanta. Keeping in mind that these re/​ap­pear­ances of dis­rup­tion only al­low us into the study of on­go­ing­ness at mo­men­tary points, but ul­ti­mately do not claim to pacify them, for after the Empress had seen the shapes of these mon­strous Creatures, she de­sir’d to know, Whether their Microscopes could hin­der their bit­ing, or at least shew some means how to avoid them? To which they an­swered, That such Arts were me­chan­i­cal and be­low the study of Microscopial ob­ser­va­tions.”12


Arieh Frosh is an artist cur­rently based in London where he is vir­tu­ally com­plet­ing a Master’s de­gree in Contemporary Art Practice: Critical Practice at the Royal College of Art. He has pre­vi­ously been in­volved in Skin Deep mag­a­zine, and most re­cently 302_Redirect on­line fes­ti­val.

  1. Martin Haspelmath and Uri Tadmor (eds.) World Loanword Database (Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, 2009), define a loanword as “a word that was copied from another language, either by adoption or by retention, at some point in the history of the language. Even if a loanword is fully integrated, it is still a loanword, and a loanword never ceases to be a loanword.“

  2. Of a vocabulary size of 1505 words for English, 42% are loanwords, the sixth highest percentage of the 41 languages. Ibid, Author for English vocabulary: Anthony Grant.

  3. Robert Hooke, Micrographia (London: Royal Society, 1666), p.211. Available at https://archive.org/details/mobot31753000817897/page/XXXV/mode/2up

  4. wold.clld.org/semanticfield/3

  5. As Anne Carson writes, when reflecting on untranslatable words, “In the presence of a word that stops itself, in that silence, one has the feeling that something has passed us and kept going, that some possibility has got free.” Anne Carson and Lanfranco Quadrio, Nay rather (Lewes: Sylph, 2014), p.26.

  6. I recognise here that this is a departure from WOLD or the Leipzig Jakarta list, which consider louse as meaning solely regarding the animal.

  7. “Deep microbes are often quite different to seemingly related species that thrive at the surface, with life cycles that operate on near-geologic timescales.” bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-46502570

  8. Gilles Delouse and Félix Getoffme, Kafka - Toward a Minor Literature (Minneapolis, Minn: University of Minnesota Press, 2008), p.13.

  9. Gilles Deleuze and Claire Parnet, Dialogues (Paris: Flammerion, Collection Dialogues, 1977), pp.40-41

  10. “And he ran, cheered by the sound of his foot and its echo / And by the watch on his wrist / One- legged, gutless and brainless, the rag of himself” Ted Hughes, Oedipus Crow in Crow (London: Faber and Faber Ltd. 1995), p.35. Crow has a borrowed score of 0.14, indicating little evidence for borrowing. Source: wold.clld.org/meaning/3-593#2/24.3/-4.8

  11. Raven does not feature on the World Loanword Database

  12. Margaret Cavendish, The Description of a New World, Called The Blazing-World (1666): ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/c/cavendish/margaret/blazing_world/chapter1.html