The Open Text and Floralegium

Floralegium:

  • From Latin Flos (flowers) and legere (to gather). Literally a collection of flowers.
  • A compilation of excerpts from other writings.
  • A tool used in monastic reading. Dogmatic florilegia, compiled from the 5th century onwards, have survived. They were often drawn up to establish the orthodoxy or heterodoxy of the theologian. In the later Middle Ages florilegia became preaching tools.
  • All it takes for something beautiful to become violent is a new context.

I thought about the practice of floralegia as I collected quotes for my reading journal this week. Lifting quotes from their context struck me as both powerful and potentially violent. Powerful, because it seems in once sense the ultimate way to engage with a text in a way that Lyn Hejinian might offer as the opposite of closure (“however pleasurable its effects, closure is a fiction, one of the amenities that falsehood and fantasy provide”). At the same time, Amiri Baraka puts forth a powerful argument for the importance of context, and lifting quotes out of context, even credited, risks erasing the very specificity of context that Baraka is speaking for.

The process of collecting quotes also struck me as a somewhat self-centered one- I wrote down the lines I wrote down because they sparked a thought of my own. These thoughts were not necessarily deep and not necessarily linear, but determined which fragments I pulled up by the roots to examine and keep. I want to think more about this process of creating fragments for myself- is it a powerful way to engage in conversation, or is it a violent way to appropriate language for my own white mind?

The idea of an open text is inviting but can also feel, depending on the positionality of the reader, like a dissection or an extraction.

Amiri Baraka maybe provides a way out of this reading conundrum. He writes- “Very soon after the first generations of Afro-Americans mastered this language, they invented white people called Abolitionists.” I love this quote because it is the ultimate decentering of whiteness and expression of how language, even the supremacist language of English, can be taken and remade. I want to use this quote as a model of how to read a text and be invented by it- that is changed through decentering. And I’m curious how the gathering of floralegia can either contribute to or hamper this process.

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2 Responses to The Open Text and Floralegium

  1. Erica Mena says:

    “Lifting quotes from their context struck me as both powerful and potentially violent.” Yes, great observation about this practice! I would love to talk in class about this, and about how context and lineage and genealogy and tradition are important for marginalized people to have for themselves; an expansion of the representation is essential idea to include continuity of influence and inspiration. This is what I think about when I think about this practice, but of course intent is not equal to impact, and the potential for violence is always there. In terms of centering, also, I think it’s important to have a space in which it’s not only legitimate but celebrated to center yourself and your experiences / feelings / reactions to the world as a person who is often marginalized. The active decentering of whiteness in Baraka is so brilliant, and essential, and corresponds to an active centering of his own experiences. Or at least that’s how I read him!

    Like

  2. Pingback: Class Notes Feb 13 | Experimental Poets of Color

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