Nowadays the hand crafts of spinning and weaving, once ubiquitous, are largely confined to hobbyists. Even handwriting is endangered as most of us tap our lines on keyboards. What kind of lines are these? Every letter is of a predetermined shape, not traced out but instantly delivered. And the line is but a sequence of letter-shapes, each complete in itself, and detached from its predecessors and successors. It is like the dotted line: a connected sequence of points rather than the trace of a movement. Today, when we speak of lines, it is most often to such a sequence that we refer. Linear thinking, we say, goes from point to point; linear transport from location to location; linear time from moment to moment. Of thinking, travel or time that wanders off course, or loops around, we are inclined to say that it is ‘non-linear’. Yet did you not just draw a line with your pencil? Does the winding path not follow a line, as does the story with its twists and turns? Indeed, what we witness today is not the birth but the death of the line. To reduce a linear movement to a rigid sequence of fixed points is to drain it of vitality, of everything that gives it life and growth. For the living world, in truth, is not connected like a net, but a writhing mesh of lines. Knotted in the midst, their loose ends never cease to root for other lines to tangle with.
Words by Tim Ingold, Emeritus Professor of Social Anthropology, University of Aberdeen and author of Lines: A Brief History, Routledge, 2016. Artwork by Elena Barber: 'A suggestion of time', 2019. Oil, chalk and pastel on canvas.