Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Pushing Pens

One thing I hadn't really thought about was how changes in print culture will affect some less obvious forms of printing. Like, for instance, handwriting...

This idea came up when I happened to catch an ad on TV for pens. Yep, pens. It got me to thinking whether or not pen sales are suffering as we turn more and more to computers to do our writing work? The ad makes all kinds of scientific claims for why writing things down in coloured ink aides memory. I'll buy that. But my interest is in thinking about printed matters like handwriting. Does it matter? Not in the sense of helping you to remember what you study, but in terms of how we understand what it means to write. There are all kinds of theories about the possibility of personality analysis through handwriting, for example. Not to mention the idea that a handwritten note in today's era carries considerable emotional weight.
It also makes me think about the way in which pens (and other stationery items like notebooks and diaries) have become such desirable fetish objects, displayed in special counters at the cash registers in bookshops. I don't know about you, but most of the time I like the idea of buying these things but resist because the top drawer of my desk is already full of them. There comes a point when you realise that you are probably unlikely to get through all the ink I've amassed - especially when I, like most people, spend my days in front of a computer screen.

Oh, yes. Here's the ad in question.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

"There is nothing in our material world more beautiful than the book"

...So says Patti Smith in her National Book Award speech. "Publishers, there's nothing more beautiful than the book: the paper, the font, the cloth. Please, no matter how we advance technologically... There's nothing in our material world more beautiful than the book."

Why is it that books are revered as beautiful objects? Where does this belief come from? Are there any cultures in which the printed word is not regarded as a thing of beauty to be worshipped?

It seems fitting that it is Smith who is advocating for books as beautiful objects. Her biography of life with Richard Mapplethorpe (for which she won the award) offers insights into life as a thing of Beauty (in the most capital 'R' Romantic sense). I suspect, though, that books as beautiful objects has a much longer history than the Romantics...