Reaktion, £25 Order for £22.50 (free p&p)from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
Imprint and Trace: handwriting in the age of technology, By Sonja Neef
Language lesson with text appeal
Tuesday 15 March 2011
First published in Germany, Imprint and Trace has been translated but not necessarily into English. Some of it is translated into italics. To begin by letting the author have the last word or words: "archiviolitic pneuma" is the less than comprehensible expression with which the book ends, an example of Sonja Neef's use of italics when one difficult word is qualified by another. Sometimes italics make easy words, or even bits of easy words, look difficult: we have "the return of writing", which itself returns as "the return of writing" and then, to stress the essential "coming-backness" "the return of handwriting". Then there's "hand writing", presumably to differentiate it from the sort where the pen is held by the toes or clenched between the buttocks.
The very first page, which hymns the letter "a", alerts the reader to the academic absurdities to come. A bold capital A is dropped in every so often, as in "Semitic immigrAnt workers". It may not help that Neef's every second word is "Jacques" and every third word is "Derrida". Every first and fourth word is jargon. This mechanistic typewriting fails to do justice to the subject of handwriting, which is personal, individual, revealing and, sometimes, beautiful.
Concealed within this cultural studies-speak is material that is indeed fascinating, particularly to a generation that confines much of its handwriting to Post-it notes stuck on computers. Medieval monks copying out manuscripts claimed that Titivillus, their "patron demon", used to sit on their shoulders and beguile them to make mistakes. Fountain pens need gravity for ink to flow; Russian cosmonauts used pencils but US spacemen were given ballpoints that handled both weightlessness and temperatures of 200 degrees centigrade.
Jotted down in hiding, Anne Frank's diaries are especially poignant. Hitler's diaries were enormously potent too because they were in the Führer's own fair hand – until it turned out that it was a forger's fair hand and the ink was scarcely dry. Today, computers can reproduce their user's handwriting, except that they make each individual letter exactly the same, whereas real handwriting always has variations.
A reader could cut-and-paste the good parts of this book, let the material speak for itself and write something interesting. By hand, of course. No italics, please.
MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word
Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says
Review: One Direction, Fourmusic
Review: The World of Ice and Firebooks
Film More romcom than S&M
Review: The Imitation Gamefilm
Comedy...to show her mastectomy scars
TVNetflix gets cryptic
TV review A moving film showing kids too busy to enjoy their youth
Books Not even a Man Booker prize could save Richard Flanagan from a nomination
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 'Not suppost to cry': 9-year-old lists the worst things about being a boy
- 2 Iggy Azalea responds to Eminem rape lyrics: 'I'm bored of old men threatening young women'
- 3 Woman opens professional cuddling shop – gets 10,000 customers in first week
- 4 Lana Del Rey rape video: Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking leaked footage
- 5 Winnie the Pooh banned from Polish playground for being 'inappropriate hermaphrodite'
Lee Evans announces his retirement from comedy on The Jonathan Ross Show
Iggy Azalea responds to Eminem rape lyrics: 'I'm bored of old men threatening young women'
Angelina Jolie confirms retirement from acting: 'I've never been comfortable on-screen'
Lana Del Rey rape video: Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking leaked footage
Willow and Jaden Smith talk duality of apples, holographic realities and the melancholia of the ocean in incredible New York Times interview
Rochester by-election: Ukip gains second MP as Tory defector Mark Reckless holds seat
'Muslims pre-date Columbus in discovering America,' says Turkish president Erdogan
Rochester by-election: Labour MP Emily Thornberry resigns after posting white van and England flags tweet
'Beast of Bolsover' Dennis Skinner takes Ukip MP Mark Reckless to task moments after he is sworn in
France 'blocks' Russian sailors from boarding a warship
Former Tory PM Sir John Major says 'we would not have an NHS without migrants'