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Where Wor(l)ds End
Katharina Ludwig























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You asked me to write about space(s). SPACE. I chose to write about letters, words and typesetting. Actually, more correctly put, I am not writing about the letters, words and typesetting at all but about what surrounds them, what’s between them. Between the lines and between the words, between the letters. The place where the words end, where an abyss opens. Where the world of the text is interrupted and stops or doesn’t begin.

I have to use letters and words though to speak, write about these gaps and in many a way it seems dishonest to employ the very object that displaces the space I actually want to write about. Fills it and by its mere existence diminishes the space.

For now, however, I have to give in and ignore this antithetic dilemma.

The space bar is the biggest and longest key on the keyboard, yet typing, it yields the shortest instant between words. The word divider. The world divider between the world of words and an empty page. It’s situated on the lowermost row of the keyboard. On my keyboard it lies between the alt and command keys and under the letters C, V, B, N and M. Looking in an angle against the light I see it is the most worn, the most thumbed key on my keyboard. Thumbed, is quite adequate of a term to describe the handling of the key as it is the place where my thumbs press, click, to create spaces in a text. Pauses the words, the text.


Editing: to move between lines. Along lines. Run along. Double spacing is easier to navigate. Left and right and above and below the text unfolds. A city of words. Moving inside the map of a dense metropolis. When did I write this text that now swallows me up, takes me in? High rise words towering around and above, words’ construction showing, letters, shiny surfaces reflecting thoughts from another time, as I move along the broad avenues between lines. Crowded. I have to move around characters to continue my way through the text. At times I have to move them around, rearrange and, push them aside to find my path. Or get rid of some altogether to create more space around me(aning).

It’s somewhat easier to pass through, for example an O and a U as in dOUble, or between an A and a C as in spACe, than through double Os, lOOp or through, let’s say an O and a C, OCean.

I have to inhale, deep breath, pull in my belly, while squeezing through their tightest gap. I feel their curves pressing on both sides of my body. Tough, through, release. Passing between an A and a N is simple as they form two neighboring straight lines. ClearANce. No curves, more space. Is, Ls and Ts are easiest to navigate around as they are formed of paraLLel sTraight LInes.

Whereas it is fairly easy to cross from line to line in the space between words or in the end of a line, where words end (Afterwards, after words), it proves to be harder to move through text mid-word. Crossing in the gap between, one has to be careful – look to both sides –  not to be hit by the next word coming up as the text moves onwards. Marks punctuate the text, perforate it and around them it is more spacious. Traffic lights on red. Stop. Breath leaks through.

Resting inside the U or the C is possible. Dangling from a G. Capital T is good as a table, its lower case not so much. I can sit and rest in the K. Lean inside the L. There are closed spaces that deny me access. At times, the whole text barricades itself from me entirely. Letters and words block the paths. I remain outside, staring at it from another world. Some letters spread out. Like being in public transport and I can’t find space, as men, left and right of me are spreading their legs. A W, or an M. This is one reason why I dislike public transport and prefer to walk, move by myself.

While I retract further inside the words I find tunnels and holes, spaces between letters, words and sentences. Between paragraphs. Spaces that appear empty at first, but then...

This space is intentionally left blank.

This space is a hole.

“A hole?’ the rock chewer grunted. ‘No, not a hole,’ said the will-o'-the-wisp despairingly. ‘A hole, after all, is something. This is nothing at all.” (Ende, 1974/1985, p. 24) This is my dad’s voice reading the Neverending Story to me as a bedtime story when I was a child. To stay close to the truth this would have been read in German (1) though. He does the voice of the rock chewer, a deep rumbling baritone and the voice of the will-o’-the-wisp, composed of fast, lisping, buzzing sounds, at one moment nearer, the next further away.

Today, almost 30 years later, my father suffers from an especially aggressive and rapidly advancing form of Primary Progressive Aphasia (PPA). “A hole after all, is something” indeed, and his sentences, words now are made from holes. PPA is a neurological syndrome that affects language capabilities (NAA, n.d.). It results from damage to specific regions of the left brain hemisphere responsible for language processing. The patient gradually looses their ability to find words, form sentences, connect signified with signifier and understand written and spoken language. Their speech becomes hesitant, halted and holey. Words are left out, often replaced by sounds or are searched for in a from the outside visibly frustrating process. The motor centre might become affected too, making it hard for the patient to follow simple sequential movements such as walking down stairs, unlocking a door, writing or setting the table. Over the course of the illness the patient can fully loose their ability to speak or write, they become mute, and cease to understand and process written and spoken language completely. Even though their memory can be impaired, this is not a primary symptom of PPA. The patient might become locked in being able to remember what they want to say but unable to express it.

My father made huge efforts to hide his illness at the beginning. Or maybe it was not about hiding but rather attempts to ignore it himself. This must have been about five or six years ago, it is hard to date the exact onset as it started slowly, almost unnoticeably. I started noticing it much later. I was used to long conversations with him on the phone. Conversations that helped me to navigate my early adult live and which I think in retrospect must have freaked him out or at least must have left him feel rather helpless. Gradually I started noticing that every time I called it was either his wife picking up, not handing me over to him, finding excuses “he’s in the garden” or him being short spoken and handing me over to his wife to discuss further. “Geht gut, muss weg, sprich mit ihr.” – “I’m fine, have to go, talk to her.” In the beginning I blamed this on his wife trying to create distance between us. That this distance was created by illness I was not aware of. Instead of creating distance she tried to fill the holes he left. The other thing I noticed were the postcards I received for my birthday, Easter, Christmas, sent from their short holidays or just like that. His handwriting became more and more insecure, spidery. I was puzzled but didn’t give it too much thought, blamed it on being written in a hurry, until it became undeniably unreadable. Then the cards were written by his wife, bearing his hesitant signature underneath her fine handwriting, partly falling out of the frame of the cards. At this point I was summoned by his wife and the condition painfully materialised for me by getting assigned a proper name: Primary Progressive Aphasia.

“A hole, after all, is something” this is the memory of my dad’s voice resounding in my head while I try to speak to him now. “This is....”                  “....nothing” he says slowly, broken, in his own voice. “Das is......”                “....nix” realising the state he is in and despising it. The phone became redundant as mode of communication and I have to visit him, be there in person to communicate with him. Something I do far too little due to work engagements, the distance I have to travel to visit him and also, more honestly, to protect myself from the empty feeling of a hole inside me these visits often leave. At every visit I find his condition worsened, deteriorated. It’s a race against time and we don’t know when the hole takes over completely and we can’t reach him anymore, no matter how far we stretch our arms out into its depths. I don’t know if he will disappear in this hole or if there will be a way to reach him. I speak slowly, try to use simple words, and I am not sure if the words reach him, but I want to believe they do. He smiles. Sometimes he nods, says something that seems to connect to the things I have told him. Sometimes he doesn’t say anything, but I see he understood what I said. He is just unable to comment on it. Sometimes he just makes sounds now, such as clicking with his tongue or some sort of whistling sound. Sounds from the bottom of the holes whose meaning remains opaque to me.

Last month he moved into a special-care home. The situation became unbearable for his wife. His motor function degenerated, he needs constant care. They are both locked in, in a world of non-speech, that is constituted of holes, guessing what inside these holes could be and the perspective of perpetual silence.

“To begin (writing, living) we must have death.” These are the words of Hélène Cixous (1994, p.7), and even though my father is alive, his loss of speech, his beginning muteness and vulnerability is another kind of death. I don’t know if I kill my father by saying this, metaphorically speaking. Last time I visited him I noticed that his skin colour changed. Formerly rather dark skinned, his complexion now has the waxy look of moulages or the figurines at Madam Tussauds. This made him appear unfamiliarly fey, far away – an enveloping shell. First the voice goes, next the control of movement, next the body, its organ functions and then life itself. I don’t believe I can reach him through engaging with or by writing holes, but the hole traditionally is a place where the upper and nether worlds connect. Bridging realms, between the living and the dead. Dad, I hope to meet you there where I write towards and I will write holes and these holes resound poly-vocally the voices of the voiceless.

A hole after all is something.

This hole is involuntarily left blank.

This space is intentionally left blank.

This passage is intentionally left blank.

This space is intentionally left blank of feeling as not to hurt too much, to grieve prematurely.

There is feeling in the space of the hole.

Washington, March 24 2018. The March For Our Life (MFOL) protests demand stricter regulations on gun control and point out the complicity of and entanglement between the NRA and governmental politics. They were organised and primarily attended by students and young adults. They were held in response to the shooting carried out by Nikolas Cruz at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on February 14, 2018. Cruz shot dead 17 people during his killing spree (2) 

This rendered the Stoneman Douglas High Shooting one of the deadliest in the history of school massacres.

As one of the survivors of the shooting eighteen year old Emma Gonzáles gave a speech at the MFOL at Washington. Her speech lasted approximately 6 minutes and 30 seconds in total She entered the stage and briefly and clearly summed up the key information of the event that only lasted 6 minutes and roughly 20 seconds. She emphasised its impact on the lives of the ones surviving, including their families and the ones of the victims. She continued naming every single victim of Cruz and enumerated things they enjoyed doing and that were cruelly taken away from them.

Then: she fell silent.

Visibly tensed and upset, tears were running down her face while she stood in silence.

This silence, not dissimilar to the by now all too well known moments of silence that are held in remembrance for members of the armed forces, victims of massacres, major accidents and terror attacks, acted as a hole, disrupting speech. A space opening between words and another world: the one of the dead. Holding still, remaining silent, saying nothing, no words for a specific amount of time. The difference to a common minute of silence was that Gonzáles refrained from announcing it beforehand. It came suddenly in a place where a speech was expected, creating a rupture, opening an abyss to a parallel world. What started as an individual gesture became a collective one. Making the audience wait first in suspense then in collective resistance.

In contrast to other silent rituals of remembrance it did not appear to be a peaceful, contemplative, pastoral, healing silence but resembled a forceful collective activist gesture. This hole is not empty. It is not truly silent either.

This space is intentionally left blank, but it speaks through its muteness or muted-ness. It speaks about the killings, about the event, about the NRA and politicians and governments who prefer to look away, downplay ever more occurring events like the shooting. It is a violent silence. Silence against a political silencing. It exactly represents the time students and teachers had to hide, endure, seek shelter, had to hope not to die without knowing any details of what was happening around them. This hole was formed of power. The collective power of being able to resist breaking it for more than four minutes (4:24). And the personal power of Gonzáles being able to hold the hole open alone.

This hole says a lot and cries out loudly through the silence.

In The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action Audre Lorde (2017, pp.1-6) speaks about the importance for women to reclaim their voice to learn to speak out again, of voicing themselves. The famous quote “Your silence will not protect you” (ibid.) stems from this text. In the threat of immanent death, Lorde suggests, women should choose to speak about things important to them, rather than being silenced by fear, institutional, societal or racial barriers, anxiety to become visible and through that vulnerable, or an imagined lack of experience.

“And I remind myself all the time now that if I were to have been born mute, or had maintained an oath of silence my own life long for safety, I would still have suffered and I would still die.”

(Lorde 2017, p.5)

Gonzáles escaped death. Her silence in her recent speech is not a gesture of evasion of conflict, on the contrary, it is closely tied to speaking out, to becoming a figurehead of a movement, of putting herself out there in front of a crowd, in front of the NRA and in front of governmental politics, to becoming visible, vulnerable. As activist she interrupts systemic processes by speaking out and lending her identity to the cause.

Through the close association of her administrated silence with the words she spoke and her persona on stage, the silence didn’t silence her but made her words resound even louder by giving them space. Sara Ahmed (2017, p.25& 30ff) observes that girls are taught from early childhood on to take up less space. “To become accommodating, we take up less space. The more accommodating we are the less space we have to take up.”

A feminist gesture is to claim back space, to insert oneself into spaces one is barred from.

“Feminism can allow you to reinhabit not only your own past but also your own body. You might over time, in becoming aware of how you have lessened your own space, give yourself permission to take up more space; to expand your own reach. It is not necessarily the case that we take up this permission simply by giving ourselves permission.” says Ahmed.

Gonzáles does this and more. She assumes and accepts the position of the activist (not an easy task for a young woman who just witnessed her schoolmates being executed for no reason), takes up the space at the front stage and also, by means of using her body and her ‘privilege’ of being still alive (as horrible as this sounds, this is how we are talking about women’s privileges...) makes space for the ones who cannot speak anymore through her silence.

The hole in her speech held the space for an elongated time frame and gave room and time to the voices of the ones that cannot speak anymore. It is a feminist gesture, this hole: making space, giving space, speaking from a wound from a traumatic experience, and letting the silence speak.

Emma Gonzáles (2018) ended her speech with the words:

“Since the time that I came out here it has been 6 minutes and 20 seconds. The shooter has seized shooting and will soon abandon his rifle, blend in with the students as they escape and walk free for an hour before arrest. Fight for your lives before it’s someone else’s job.“

This space is the space we claim.

This space is the space we have.

This space is not blank.

It never was.

Ahmed, S., 2017. Living a Feminist Life, Durham: Duke University Press.

Cixous, H., 1994. Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing, New York: Columbia University Press.

Ende, M., 1985. The Neverending Story, Puffin.

Gonzáles, E., 2018. Emma Gonzalez's powerful March for Our Lives speech in full - video, Reuters. Available at: [Accessed 2 May, 2018]

Lorde, A., 2017. Your Silence Will Not Protect You, London: Silver Press.

Mindock, C., Buncombe, A. & Shugerman, E., 2018. Florida shooting: 17 killed as gunman opens fire at Parkland high school. Available at: [Accessed May 2, 2018].

NAA, Primary Progressive Aphasia. Available at: [Accessed May 4, 2018].

(1) »Ein Loch?«, grunzte der Felsenbeißer. »Nein, auch kein Loch«, – das Irrlicht wirkte zusehends hilfloser –, »ein Loch ist ja irgendetwas. Aber dort ist nichts.«

(2) See Independent article on the shooting (Mindock et al. 2018)

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