; ; 6 Jun 2017

Mineral Speaks

By Eloise Harris and Sophie Châtellier

‘Flint and Shale’ is a project conducted by Eloise Harris and Sophie Châtellier in 2013, most characters and instances are fictional.

We are very pleased to present for the first time a compilation taken from an intriguing series of films recently donated to the Swiss National Science Foundation by the Society of Solid Mineral Material Research and Development. The Society was until recently chaired by the professors E.C. Flint and S.A.C. Shale, who orchestrated this documentary series. The films present us with an intricate new alphabet, a unique ‘gestural rock language’, which was developed by the professors themselves for the notation of physical description of rocks and other mineral creatures.

Very little is known about the lives of the two (if in fact, it is two persons) established but uncharted professors Flint and Shale, other than their profounding work conducted in the French Alps during the mid-1980s. According to an interview conducted with the professors for issue 92 of the French journal Le Magazine de la Culture et de la Vie Géologique (1982), this particular shorthand method was created during their well-known study in the domain of Chthulucene* geology, and the frustration experienced because of the unsatisfying vocabulary and lack of symbols to classify and describe their mineral discoveries. [1] [2] They state that:

“It is said that one needs a bumptious litter of ways of telling a story, and thus in describing the organic matter of which is the product of thousand of year long stories, the written language available to us, is inadequate”

In the same article, they explain how the language was developed:

“Similar to traditional calligraphy teaching techniques, in which the movement of a character was taught before a quill and ink was handed to the student, teaching with gestural movements, moving one’s hand in the appearance of the sign, and similar of the feeling described with that sign.”

As their research in eidosgeology evolved, they developed an increasingly complex system of hieroglyphs to counter this shortage and to increase efficiency in their book keeping. [3]  Satisfied by the results, they decided to open it up to students and young researchers of the eidos of rocks and pebbles. These films were produced for this educational purpose, including multiple sets of ‘exercise’ films, of which we sample a few at the end of this clip.

It would seem that Flint & Shale’s aim with the alphabet of symbols was to enhance the vocabulary of discussion on rocks, pebbles and minerals, and to broaden the span in common written languages past its words for material make up. Although at first successful enough to be made into educational films, the language never really entered scientific records and seems to have only been used by the two scientists. Indeed, they themselves, in a later interview admitted to have partly lost the shorthand, and returned to traditional forms of transcribing scientific elements. [4]

The infinite possibility of creating new signs to express, in essence, what the French author, philosopher and rock-lover Roger Caillois describes as the ‘uncertain beauty common to the different dynasties’ of minerals confronts us with the  complexity of the task, however, leads to an awareness of the limits of human perception, and the impossibility to describe, and in essence, understanding these eternal creatures altogether. This impossible strive is perhaps most eloquently expressed by Caillois in the introduction to his work L’Ecriture des Pierres[5]

Within rocks, the beauty common to the different dynasties seems uncertain, if not dispersed, to a sparse being, last to arrive on the planet, intelligent, active, ambitious and stimulated by immense presumptions. (…) However, even if he fails to notice or disdains, even if he ignores the general or profound beauty that emanates since the beginning of the universe’s architecture from which all the others arose, he cannot stop it from imposing itself to him through something fundamental and indestructible which amazes him, which he will desire and which resumes well, in its brutality, the term mineral.


1. A term used by the historian Donna Harraway to address the term Anthroposcene, ‘Chthulucene does not close in on itself; it does not round off; its contact zones are ubiquitous and continuously spin out loopy tendrils.’
2.Le Magazine de la Culture et de la Vie Géologique, Vol 3, Issu xiii, 1982, p.22.
3.’eidos’ for essence, capturing the expression of a rock.
4. Bulletin de la Société Géologique Minérale des Rhône-Alpes, Vol.XI, Issue 7, 1990, p.112.
5. Caillois, Roger, L’Ecriture des Pierres, Flammarion, 1970, p. 7.

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