journal of the international society for doodling praxis and research
Doodling is the definitive minoritarian art – but what does it mean to doodle? And what does a doodle mean? The OED defines a doodle as a drawing made absentmindedly. As such it embodies the pure bloodyminded distraction of the perruque – that theft of time made famous by Michel de Certeau. A doodle is what you do when you’re meant to be paying attention to something else. When you doodle you’re supposed to be focused, to be following, but you hand over the reins to the unconscious. You allow the line to drift, you drift into the line, along it – you drift where it takes you, beyond what’s allowed.
Should that line be considered as text or as image? As representation or as abstraction? It can be all these and it can be the process of language becoming, the process of a writing composing itself as such. There’s something essentially creative implied in this lack of – or passage beyond – constraints. And all of this is possible because – like its larger cousin, graffiti – doodling is the kind of handwork not to be taken seriously. It’s by virtue of that lacking seriousness, not deserving focus, that minoritarian, other-than-canonic quality, the art of doodling is exemplary for the process of art. It gives concrete expression to what Keats called negative capability, that state of being ‘in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact & reason’.
Doodling is time stolen and turned to art, which if considered as such challenges the idea of art, its seriousness, and the relationship of art-as-practice to other more serious things and practices.
Think of instances of the doodle-event – time stolen unseen, as on the telephone, time conspicuously stolen in the lecture room, in the boardroom. Then there is killing time on the aeroplane, in the waiting room, in the queue – places where time is most conspicuously stolen from you. Doodling in these circumstances might be thought almost a perruque of perruque – in the place where you’re meant to be bored, you’re not because you let the mind go its own way. You were to be alienated, normativised, reduced to the one line, the one direction – but you picked up the pen and you followed it out over the margins and far far away. You went where a poem might have gone, but not a word heard, or written or said. Then a voice from another world came to you and someone said, ‘it’s your turn’, and you were there, you were ready, you were already there.
All perruques are reversible and as a result doodling can help you to pay attention – that is to say it can help you to focus by keeping your distraction to a single task (however disorganized or anarchic that particular work might be). Doodling can be the distraction you had to have in order to pay attention.
A raft of scholarly (and pseudo-scholarly) questions arise when we consider how to consider the doodle – already the nomadology of Gilles Deleuze and Co. is suggested, already there are high low art questions – what’s framed on the gallery wall, what stays in margins of the yellow pages. Do the principles of abstract or of representational art apply to the analysis of doodles? Needless to say there is a psychoanalytic dimension (and other psychological approaches are indicated) – doodling can be seen as a kind of self-adminstered Rorschach test. If handwriting can be studied then certainly doodling can. And – because it is generally wordless – like the visual arts more generally, and like music – doodling is an international language. It may be culturally formed and framed but it speaks across the great divides of language, of culture, of nation.
What are the heuristic/pedagogic dimensions of doodling? Can this kind of multi-tasking be taught? Can it be learned? And what are the political implications of doodling? Of refusing the here and now as the singular object given us – of refusing the rules of art and of discourse – of refusing the decorum of white space which went with the text already there or the text of the kind that was meant to be?
Lastly, one might consider the disciplinary status of the doodle. Surely, the deliberate doodle, as an avowed act of distraction, necessarily remains between disciplines? In this way it allows an outsider’s vantage and viewpoint, the strange approach, the approach of the stranger. As with inter-disciplinary approaches in general, doodle-mindedness lets knowledge solidified be brought into doubt. And so – as is often needful – the piss can be taken and a kind of laughter snuck into the academy – best medicine for everyone.
This journal hopes to host discussion of all of these and many more related (and unrelated) questions, issues, drifts of mind. With no proselytic agenda intended, needless to say, the working assumption will be that doodling is not a bad thing, not a bad thing at all. Nor need the marginalization of the doodle be seen in a negative light. In other words, this journal is not intended as the spearhead of a campaign to have doodling taken seriously or to get it into the galleries or anything like that. The aim of this journal is to attract scholars and practitioners (and hopefully especially those who draw both hats) interested to deal in and with doodles however and where-and-whenever such urges may manifest.
Christopher (Kit) Kelen is Professor of English at the University of Macau in south China, where he has taught Literature and Creative Writing over the last fifteen years. The most recent of Kelen’s dozen English-language volumes of poetry are Scavengers Season (Puncher and Wattmann 2014) and A Pocket Kit (2) (Flying Islands / ASM 2016)