As an art form, the blog has extraordinary possibilities. It’s a “magic theatre: entrance not for everybody”. Anybody may come and peek, but those for whom it’s not intended will swiftly move on.
Où sont les neiges d’antan? Where are the snows of yester-year?
Through handwriting to Eternity
Published on Blogger, Friday, October 12, 2012
As an art form, the blog has extraordinary possibilities. It’s a “magic theatre: entrance not for everybody”. Anybody may come and peek, but those for whom it’s not intended will swiftly move on. This theatre’s producer—I mean the blog author—may put on a new show every day, or hardly ever. In the public imagination the “weblog”, now simply known as the blog (both words still rejected by Blogger’s own spell-checker) is a space for the brief and gaudy flowering of newsy content: perhaps world news, or just what’s new within the author’s horizon. What you see day to day is liable to be displaced any time by a newer entry and consigned to an archive of past exhibits, filed by date or topic. So it’s not just a fluttering ephemera but also a natural history museum of past efforts, past enthusiasms.
Ephemera: 1. An insect that (in its imago or winged form) lives only for a day. In mod. entomology the name of a genus of pseudo-neuropterous insects belonging to the group Ephemeridæ (Day-flies, May-flies).—OED
Like many self-styled writers I once embraced the notion that a book-length book, preferably within hard covers, was the way to go. I had even chosen my publisher: Faber & Faber. I never dared test if they would choose me. It’s not that I have downsized my ambition since then. It’s simply the happy realization that the blog format suits me perfectly; or else that I’ve adjusted to its constraints, reframed them as virtues. I reject the printed book’s pretensions to completion and finality. My entries are essays, successive attempts to convey something, or at any rate to undergo something in the various processes involved in composition. The public imagination may see the blog as a spontaneous expression, like its baby brother, Twitter. They are not wrong. Within written literature, it approaches, but can never quite reach, the danger of live performance. I was recently invited to recite something from this blog on stage at a “Quiet Night Out” at our local arts centre. I said “yes”, until I thought about it later.
Within my blog, I contemplate Eternity. I think that’s my one constant topic. “Eternity is in love with the productions of time”, said Blake in his Proverbs of Hell, themselves productions of time which he engraved on copper plates. So it is fitting that my own process is similarly laborious, involving old-fashioned pen and ink, and a great deal of silence in between. To produce an ephemera, such as a May-Fly or Day-fly, there’s a four-stage metamorphosis: ovum, larva, pupa and imago. I require no less than that delicate creature for this particular “production of time”.
Writing by hand can be a meditation on Eternity; which inevitably brings me to speak of Arthur Stace, and his own metamorphosis.
Arthur Stace was a scamp, a wastrel, a war casualty, a drunk, a tramp. He was also Sydney’s most famous author, even though he never had a book published and was so illiterate he could barely write his own name. But Stace—“a little bloke, just five foot three inches tall, with wispy white hair” according to Peter Carey’s 30 Days in Sydney—was also, “a shy mysterious poet… whose work was just one single mighty word”. One word. But, as artist Martin Sharp observed: “Arthur Stace wrote an entire novel in that word.” His one word was Eternity, and he wrote it in chalk, in perfect copperplate-style handwriting, on the sidewalks of Sydney. He went on doing it for years in secret, till a journalist caught him at it.
I can empathize with Stace, for Eternity’s a word which can induce a world-stopping moment, a subliminal satori, a moment sub specie aeternatis. Yes, I like the long words, the Latin and Greek ones, but I aspire to no more than Stace, himself sans Twitter, sans Blogger, sans education. I write in chalk every day on a section of kitchen wall done in blackboard paint: reminders and shopping lists mainly, but the act itself is joyful. It takes me back to my first schoolroom writing, on a slate with chalk; soon followed by copybooks, first traced in pencil, then in ink. We were taught “copperplate”, that is, to write in a flowing hand the whole word without lifting the chalk or the pen-nib. Then we would cross the t’s and dot the i’s.
It is only the sense of “I”, dotted, dotty or otherwise, that holds us back from dwelling in Eternity.
The top illustration evokes a scene from The Steppenwolf, by Herman Hesse. Acknowledgements to http://macphisto-thefly.blogspot.co.uk/
Quote on Arthur Stace from http://www.au.timeout.com/sydney/the-bridge/features/1235/arthur-stace
Andrew Marr’s programme “Start the Week” on Monday was on “The Dying Art of Handwriting”. You can download it here. It was a joy to find others who voiced so well my own vague thoughts on the subject.
Rebb said… I don’t have any words, except to say how much I enjoyed your essay, Vincent. Oftentimes your essays will stick with me or I’ll recognize similar processes and feelings that I have but am not able to fully articulate. Even though we are so very different, I always feel a familiar vibration in you.
Davoh said… Hand writing – the land of painted caves. (yer, i know; a book imagined by Jean M Auel, published; and printed via recent technology). Who knows how much electronic technology will survive for the next 3-4 thousand years?
ZACL said… Writers of old would have had little idea, if any, that their their rock created doodles and various styles of writings would still be with us and studied today. Who is to say that modern technological communications will not make an eternal mark? They are likely to be viewed differently, though the analytical mind and the perceptive eye will see similarities, and in some instances a oneness produced via another means to gain the same or similar ends. Communicative technologies are precious. The pen is a lovely artistic means of production, as is the art of using the quill, or the paint brush. The illuminated manuscripts of the monks are glorious. We are fortunate to be able to see copies of them because of the burgeoning of information technology. Current communication skills can be very beautiful too and give large numbers of people the means of accessing all sorts of personal imprints.
Vincent said… Davoh and ZACL: I ought to clarify a point about Eternity, in the sense I used it in this piece: a very old-fashioned sense, wherein everything in our sublunary universe will pass away. “Sublunary” itself is a very old-fashioned word, predating Copernicus, never mind space travel. So by Eternity I meant the perhaps imaginary realm beyond Time itself.
Davoh, I followed up your book-hint re Jean M Auel’s The Land of Painted Caves. Have you read it yourself? Would you recommend it? I didn’t feel it was my kind of thing, I must confess.
ZACL, I concur completely with your comments about all the different kinds of communicative technology. they have always fascinated me, ever since as a boy of 7 I tried to grapple with the notion of printing. There was a thing called the John Bull Printing Outfit, in which you had rubber letters which you could place in wooden racks with tweezers to create your own rubber stamps. they were used by adults for various purposes and were also toys for those interested like me. I fantasized about starting my own publishing company using such an outfit. Sixty-odd years later that has come true. “Lector, si monumentum requiris, circumspice.” I also had the idea, about ten years ago, of software which could aid production of those illuminated manuscripts, with electronic versions of ink in gold, vermilion, lapis lazuli etc. (See also this post.)
Davoh said… um, ok, have to admit that the writings of Jean Auel is ‘not my thing’ .. merely mention her/it because she has obviously done an enormous amount of research into the history of ancient peoples. Tried, as it were, to ‘bring them to life’, but within the understanding of ‘modern’ teenagers. Am, at this time, reading The Autobiography of Henry VIII – with notes by his fool Will Somers – written, of course – with a title like that – by Margaret George [published by Pan]. Yet another apparently well, and deeply researched ‘fiction’. Who knows, Vincent – what is ‘real’ …. and while am here (i.e. commenting) – it seems to me that human beings have trouble contemplating concepts like “infinity” and “eternity”. ‘Tis more ‘comfortable’ to view existence with ‘boundaries’ … your yard,fence, concept – is yours, this is my fence; draw the line; defence; offence… the cosmos cares not a whit for twits… Meanwhile – back on the original premise of this post – handwriting; where would we be without the ancient Babylonians (clay), indeed, the Egyptians (writing in, and on, stone). Where DID ‘written’ language – and ‘communication’ – come from? Think about it.
Vincent said… The latest in your rash of welcome comments, dear Davoh, is the only one to stir me out of idleness of the digits into a reply. For there is something we should all know, whether twits, non-twits or anti-twits. The cosmos, however allegedly large it may appear compared with you and me, cares a myriad whits, for we are children of the cosmos and in a sense its parents too. For we are woven into its very weft, not to mention its woof. We are rearrangements of cosmic dust according to some mysterious and magical formula. Perhaps we are the greatest in creation, or perhaps we are just temporarily-animated dust that dreams, and then is.
Perhaps we are just part of the great Lila, or play of the gods. But whatever we are, as children of the Cosmos, we ourselves do care. Whence did that caring arise? Did we ourselves invent it? How did that come about? Personally I find it more comfortable to contemplate Eternity than any boundary you care to name, though my garden fence is looking pretty this Autumn (yeah, I know, it’s probably your spring) with the leaves of the creeper turning polychromatic. Wondrous enough . . .
Ah, you sandwiched in another comment whilst I was writing mine. I think we would easily have invented handwriting a hundred times over if the Babylonians ran out of mud and never invented cuneiform.
I heard on the radio this morning that they handed out tablets (some kind of mobile phone, not pills) to little children in Ethiopia who had no prospect of ever going to school. Everything was written on these devices in English. They very quickly learned to use them by playing endlessly and sharing their discoveries with one another. Apparently they learned much more rapidly than if they had gone to school. To prove that I didn’t imagine this, see [BBC link]:
American researchers from the organisation Global Advocacy, One Laptop Per Child have mounted an experiment in two small Ethiopian villages to see the effect of new technology on children in remote regions of the developing world.
Helped by the Ethiopian government, they gave out tablet PCs, programmed in English and without any instructions, to every child between four and eleven years old in their target areas.
Early findings, they say, are astonishing and appear to suggest that tablets may do more for some children’s education than schools or teachers. Global Advocacy’s Matt Keller explained the thinking behind the experiment to the Today programme’s Mike Thomson.
Davoh said… (and if if makes any sense, have been talking with one Australian aboriginal elder. He has no need to “write” … simply ‘remembers things’. wow .. GMT vs Aust.
Vincent said… it certainly makes good sense. He says he has no need to write, but I suggest he has a need to defend his dignity in the face of illiteracy. Can he read? I respect the aborigines greatly, but … Yeah, who needs instant messaging, or whatever it’s called?
Davoh said… um, yep Vincent, was hoping that youse guys wuz all asleep up there .. oops.
Vincent said… To be honest, it’s the time when I often take my afternoon nap, but you’re keeping me awake.
Gina said… I looked up weft and woof. I was previously unfamiliar with these words (woof is something a dog does.) Sometimes I think you’ve lived forever, Vincent. 🙂 Oh, no. I see all those bloody links down there…they’ll drown us…do you think perhaps they appear because of some blogger setting that’s enabled?
Vincent said… Don’t you dare do anything to remove those links, Gina. They are to this site an ornament and a diadem. And when Satan finds some mischief still, for idle hands to do, each of those links opens up a different chamber of Aladdin’s cave, to amaze and edify. Only the most petty-minded will think that Gina Duarte is brazenly flaunting & disproportionately showcasing! I love to choose one at random. it’s never time wasted. In those moments, I’m like one of those Ethiopian boys (forgive me, I see them all as boys) discovering the secrets of Western civilization from a tablet found in the desert, a kind of reverse Rosetta stone.
Vincent said… I meant warp and woof, of course. Weft and woof are the same thing.
Davoh said… Ah, the weft and warps of life’s tapestry …