The term History stems from Greek: historia, meaning: "learning or knowing by inquiry”.1 Though history’s etymological roots have nothing to do with the possessive pronoun his, it does resonate strongly within the word. Past told is generally male - written for and by him and his and has, more often than not, possessive agendas and effects. Even though the word history’s roots don’t lead to his, its routes do.

In accordance with these routes, a majority of the historical material that I am listening to and looking at is written by and for him and his. And so, in that way, this association – this actuality, the His of History, sadly makes sense. But what is maybe even more relevant to this work is the Hiss of History: a double-S re-sounding, a hissssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss a wheeze a whistle, a continuous seemingly never-ending s, with a somewhat ominous ring.

Hiss has, as all words, a history. The word has been traced back to the 14th century, and it has been established that Hiss has an imitative origin. Onomatopoetically it does what it says, it hisses. An online edition of The Noah Webster’s dictionary from 1828 defines the verb hiss like this:

1. To make a sound by driving the breath between the tongue and the upper teeth; to give a strong aspiration, resembling the noise made by a serpent and some other animals, or that of water thrown on hot iron. Hissing is an expression of contempt.

The merchants among the people shall hiss at thee. Ezekiel 27:36.

2. To express contempt or disapprobation by hissing.

3. To whiz, as an arrow or other thing in rapid flight.” 2

In an online version of the 1913 edition of the same dictionary, passage 1 reads like this:

“1. To make with the mouth a prolonged sound like that of the letter s, by driving the breath between the tongue and the teeth; to make with the mouth a sound like that made by a goose or a snake when angered; esp., to make such a sound as an expression of hatred, passion, or disapproval.” 3

At a previous point in time the letter s, the anger of the serpent and the goose, hatred, passion and disapproval, lie within Hiss. Descriptions are added onto descriptions. Call them perfected or truncated, they come again, changed. Versions are added into versions. Sources of definitions can be traced to previous – other – sources. It is a never ending, that is, always beginning-again, process of repetition and change, of renewal.

Older versions linger within New-
er and New-
er head back into the Old.
Understandings are based on manifold and shifting
Definitions dislocate THIS IS
Order and instability within-order.

Noah Webster, born in West Hartford, Connecticut in the middle of the 18th century, was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America. He is, above all, known for his dictionary: for his(s) definitions.

Howe writes: ”The Noah Webster’s dictionary from 1828 is repeatedly invoked by our 19th century North American interpreters, Emerson, Melville, Hawthorn, Dickinson, Whitman and many others. Often the Calvinist lexographer’s terse definitions, particularly when read aloud, resemble prose poems.” 4

The Noah Webster’s dictionary from 1828 is repeatedly invoked by Susan Howe.

A modern dictionary adds the sound of electronics to the definition of the noun hiss: ”electronics receiver noise with a continuous spectrum, caused by thermal agitation, shot noise, etc.” 5

The Hiss of Hissstory is manifold and continuous. It is a hissing that renews itself and polyphonically sounds-again. It is the noise of an angered serpent or goose, water on hot iron, receiver noise with a continuous spectrum, the whiz of rapid flight, the s, the mouth shaped by the human exhaling contempt, passion, hatred, disapproval. It is the pen brushing against the paper, the fan of the library reading room, the computer when writing, the computer when reading, when reading writing the wind from outside the window leaking into the text, blood rushing, it is the sound of THIS IS again THIS IS





















1., (03/12/15)

2. Noah Webster's Dictionary, (03/12/15)

3. The ARTFL Project, Websters Dictionary, (03/12/15)

4.  Susan Howe, Spontaneous Particulars: The Telepathy of Archives, New Directions, NY, 2014.

5. The Free Dictionary, (03/12/15)