“Sharing Knowledge”, silkscreen print by Alvin Child (Haida)

On Monday, I came across a lovely new word: Intertwingularity — and even more beautiful, its verb form intertwingling.

According to [emphasis added]:

Intertwingularity is a term coined by Ted Nelson to express the complexity of interrelations in human knowledge.

Nelson wrote in Computer Lib/Dream Machines (Nelson 1974, p. DM45): “EVERYTHING IS DEEPLY INTERTWINGLED. In an important sense there are no “subjects” at all; there is only all knowledge, since the cross-connections among the myriad topics of this world simply cannot be divided up neatly.”[1]

He added the following comment in the revised edition (Nelson 1987, p. DM31): “Hierarchical and sequential structures, especially popular since Gutenberg, are usually forced and artificial. Intertwingularity is not generally acknowledged—people keep pretending they can make things hierarchical, categorizable and sequential when they can’t.”[2]

When I am thinking of the reality of cosmic oneness, I love the word Interbeing created by the Buddhist monk Thich Naht Hahn who says in his book The Art of Living):

” About thirty years ago I was looking for an English word to describe our deep interconnection with everything else. I liked the word “togetherness,” but I finally came up with the word “interbeing.” The verb “to be” can be misleading, because we cannot be by ourselves, alone. “To be” is always to “inter-be.” If we combine the prefix “inter” with the verb “to be,” we have a new verb, “inter-be.” To inter-be and the action of interbeing reflects reality more accurately. We inter-are with one another and with all life.”

The term Interbeing is fundamental to my understanding of Cosmos, but oh! there is definitely a place for Intertwingling as well. First of all, it is just so much fun to say! I cannot even think the word “intertwingling” without feeling a twinkle come to my eye and a happy tingling to my heart!

And then, too, Intertwingling in apparently built from the root word “twine,” which calls to mind my beloved fiber arts of spinning, weaving, and wet-felting: Perhaps especially wet-felting, where neither “Line” nor “Direction” are involved as they are in the first two. In felting, you add the magic ingredients of Moisture and Movement to a hodge-podge of fiber and the individual fibers interwingle with neighbors who have interwingled with others and on and on in all directions at once until you have a stable community of fibers — a piece of felt!

The picture at the beginning of this post — “Sharing Knowledge” by the Haida artist Alvin Child — strikes me as an excellent example of Intertwingling.

As the gallery description of this piece says “In this design, Frog’s tongue touches Raven’s. What looks like an intimate interaction at first glance, symbolizes the sharing of knowledge and power, and the ability to communicate with different species. It suggests an interconnectedness between all living things.”

How hopeful I find it to see Raven (that Trickster “assistant to the creator”) and Frog (symbol of Healing) intertwingle their attributes — creating, I hope, something new and much-needed in today’s world!

— Please do go to the website for a clearer view of the image [without the glass-reflection I couldn’t seem to avoid in the photo] and for more information about the artist and his interpretation of the the painting. —

… As I was writing the above, I realized that “Interwinglement” was perhaps the main reason I am so attracted to the art of the peoples who inhabit the northwest coast of North America. Something about the way the shapes merge and break apart and merge again….

So, like the good (recovering) academic that I am, I began to look for more information about this distinctive style. Imagine my great delight to find an article in the The University of Chicago Press Journals that expresses something to close to what I had felt intuitively:

“… the expansive and expanding figures who appear in Haida and Tlingit art reflect a distinctive theory about aliveness: namely, they understand aliveness to be the generator of all the material, perceptual, and metaphysical structures we call reality. The reality that so arises is predicated not on, say, Kantian concepts of space or time understood as a priori forms. Instead, the shivering intensity of sentience creates the very space in which it exists; a surface does not exist until a being moves over it. Furthermore, this aliveness is most generative right on the threshold of epiphany: the world is authored by the sudden flicker and flash of living beings behind dense screens of nonliving matter.”


Those of you who know me well can imagine how difficult it was, after reading those lines, to grab myself by the collar & say sternly to myself, “Margery — this is a blog, not a dissertation.”

“But,” I replied plaintively, “one thing leads to another & then to others & they lead to still others and…. And I could bring in Andreas Weber’s term “Enlivenment” and…” Exactly: Another example of Intertwingularity! 🙂

And then, of course, I began to ask myself questions about the intertwingling of Stories and …. Isn’t life fun? Always more to be curious about!

See you next Friday and…….

1 thought on “Intertwingularity

  1. “….there are no “subjects” at all, there is only all knowledge”
    YES!, there is such relief, release, reading this, seeing the words on a page,
    in this exact way…..


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