Thursday, May 12, 2011

Because handwriting is not yet extinct

I make books.  The techniques, the methods, the careful folding and stitching and glueing, would be familiar to a sixteenth century monk.  My roll of tools resembles a travelling apothecary’s kit from a forgotten culture.
I make books for the feel and texture of the paper, the heft of buckram and cartridge.  I love the joy of transforming old maps or musical scores into quirky covers.
But also, I make books because they are a fundamental element of our culture, transferable, recognisable, egalitarian.  Douglas Adams claimed that ‘Books are sharks’; that is, they have reached a level of evolutionary perfection that cannot be bettered.

Notebooks and journals encourage the art of handwriting.  In a culture which is collectively forgetting the feel of a soft pencil on a crisply sized page, handwriting becomes a runic script from a forgotten age.  The significant difference between handwriting and typed script is that the former retains the indelible evidence of the soul of the writer, in the same way that we can imagine a room to contain the exhaled atoms of our friends or lovers.  I think of the final entry in Robert Falcon Scott’s Antarctic journal, on view at the British Library, his spidery handwriting becoming fainter, weaker as he nears his end.  The solemn finality of those words ‘for god’s sake look after our people.’
In the WB Yeats museum in Dublin, I recall the small index card, some four inches by two, on which he wrote the first draft of He wishes for the cloths of heaven.  It was an electrifying moment, seeing the impress of the unsharpened pencil, the image of his long fringe flopping over his rounded spectacles as he squeezed such emotion and meaning from eight short lines.  A reminder that handwriting represents a kinaesthetic link with the writer, a direct expression of thought preserved on the page.
I make books because handwriting is not yet extinct.

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