“Nomen Sacrum Trial” by Sylvanus Shaw

Screen capture of “Nomen Sacrum Trial” by Sylvanus Shaw.  Three rectangular tiles - a gray one in the middle with text written on it, and a black one on each side also with text on them.
Open “Nomen Sacrum Trial” by Sylvanus Shaw

This “psychometric trial” prompts readers to explore their sacred name through manipulation of the “lettered sieve” an infinite set of language constructed as follows:

For the following trial, imagine the alphabet, followed by, in alphabetical order, all permutations of pairs of letters of the alphabet, followed by all permutations of triples of letters of the alphabet, followed by quadruples, and so on for quintuples, sextuples, and so on. Let us call this infinite set of letters a ‘Lettered Sieve.’ Possessing a working concept of the Lettered Sieve is essential to completing the first seven parts of the trial.

The procedural construction of this kind of data set that dates back to antiquity and proliferated among monks in the Middle Ages, who used them for reflection on mystical topics. This work’s design evokes that frame of reference with rich details, such as background images of old paper, fully capitalized text with variable letter size and evenly justified margins, words arranged to form shapes, and more. The language choices also evoke mysticism and even self-harm, all while challenging the imagination with language procedures that might give even Oulipians nightmares to carry out.

As you read this work, think about how they focus your attention on the manipulation of language— mathematically, conceptually, visually, and physically— in a masterfully visceral display of ostranenie.

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