People who live in the city do not really need a kitchen (or a big one). It would make more sense for us to turn over the boring business of the kitchen to places outside the house, to places run by those who can actually cook for a living. Despite the problem of cooking having been solved by the city, in the same way the problem of baking was solved by Betty Crocker, we have these bad feelings, these lagging, nagging feelings for authenticity, for an egg in the mix. This is all our kitchens really are—fictions of authenticity.
Anyway, I’ve been brooding about this for a few days, since I randomly encountered, in a box full of dusty computer/device manuals and the like, the “Graffiti Reference Card” and stickers that came with a Palm Pilot I owned years ago. It felt like discovering evidence of a dead language.
“I don’t know that I would say the morgue is a diamond in the rough. I might say it’s a rough in the rough. It’s as unpolished as the world we have now, and that’s what makes it valuable. We can turn to it for a reminder that we’re not living a life for the first time: we’ve been here before.”—David Dunlap, NYT reporter
Inside the New York Times “Lively Morgue”
Print archives that were once the heart of many newspapers have gone the way of the floppy disk. But at the New York Times, home to the Lively Morgue Tumblr, the technology that’s threatened to kill the morgue may also save it. We went inside the morgue to find out what all the fuss was about. Read the accompanying feature.
There are many good things to be grown in the autumn of the patriarch, many good things to be found in the ruins, in the collapse of the older explanatory systems, in the splintering of the masterly overview and the totalising aspiration.
“Questi libri non son strumenti per la divulgazione di un contenuto testuale o figurativo ma, piuttosto, l’espressione di una visione personale — dell’arte, della poesia, della tipografia — da condividere in una cerchia ridotta di ‘complici’.”
(‘These books are not instruments for the dispersion of textual or figurative content, but, rather, are for the expression of a personal vision — of art, of poetry, of typography — to share with a small circle of accomplices.’)” Lucio Passerini, Milanese woodcut artist and letterpress printer, qtd. in Paul Shaw, Lessons from a Milan Type Master: A renowned letterpress printer talks about his influences and inspirations as we explore his studio, Imprint via Salon, Aug. 16, 2011
To them, the arguments about aesthetics and utility are in vain, and the notion of texture – different inks, different papers, interlineations and deletions and all the visual semiotics of writing – seems foreign. They want something that looks, as on-screen, word-processed text looks, finished even when it’s only just begun.
It’s a mistake.
First, it’s a mistake of courtesy. Handwriting may have diminished as a public discourse – been diminishing since the invention of printing and then of the typewriter – but as a private marker it remains. Handwriting is no more absurd than knowing how to dress and groom oneself. It’s a sign that one is civilised, and like all such signs, at least to some extent superfluous.
Our belief that handwriting should be consistent would astonish our ancestors, who believed that the mastery of “secretary hand” and “chancery cursive”, of three or four different handwriting styles, showed distinction and versatility.
But, second, and much more importantly, it’s a mistake in thinking-about-thinking. The artist Joan Miró spoke of his drawing as “taking a line for a walk”. Handwriting might be thought of as taking an idea for a walk. It can’t be done on the computer, not in the same way. The computer is both linear and modal; text flows from left to right (in English, anyway), from top to bottom, and if you want to draw lines or boxes or connect things together, you need a different toolbox. The computer can do many things that pen and paper can’t do; but those first, unformed doodlings are not its strength.
My own experience, too, is that the words come differently from a pen than from a keyboard. There’s a different rhythm. Handwriting is more fluid. Rewriting is more considered, because you’d generally finish the piece, have a break and get some perspective, then rewrite it. On the computer we all edit as we go: we tinker with the minutiae and lose the panoramic view.
I take delight in my notebooks. They are almost evidence of my existence. I like poring through them. I like coming across odd adjacencies. I like the changes in ink, or the bits where I go into pencil; I like the bit where the ink ran in a high Aegean sea, or the blob of mayonnaise from when I got upgraded to Club. I like the fact that not since the invention of the typewriter has handwriting been a common public medium: my notes and drafts are mine and instantly distinguishable from the Optima 14pt on my MacBook screen. I like this notebook being the one Nick gave me, and that one being from the first run of Moleskines before they became a silly cult; I like the texture of the things, and with its special paper and affectless ballpoint, texture is lacking from the Echo. But at least – and it’s a big “least” – it’s not just another version of the screen, the pixels, the world-behind-glass.
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