Visual Words

In my handwritten note I alluded briefly to the idea of handwriting possessing "presence" and printing having only "absence". In its infancy printing was known as "artificial writing" - the implication being that handwriting = natural, printing = artifice, obviously. I once messed about with ideas concerning printing and how English as a literary language emerged post-Gutenberg (and Gutenberg's cronies now often relegated to footnotes): poets like George Herbert would write poems which use the relative fixity of the printed page etc etc etc. Some people hold forth that the digital age provides an even greater absence between the Scribe and the Word - a form of hyper-absence which forms an even wider gap between word and meaning. I suspect my own hesitation towards e-books must spring from a peculiar awareness of this aporia. I think. Blah, blah, blah.

And so I came across Des Imagistes: An online version of Ezra Pound's anthology of Imagist poetry dating back to 1914. Contributors include well-known modernists like James Joyce and William Carlos Williams as well as the less-remembered (but equally important) Richard Aldington and F.S. Flint.

The website was created as part of a course at the MIT and the project team explain their choice of design:

This website uses a font stack of "Futura, Tahoma, Arial, sans-serif." Futura was designed between 1924 and 1926 by Paul Renner, and while Renner was not associated with the Bauhaus school of design, Futura is frequently used in connection with Bauhaus-related topics. The Bauhaus school was founded two years after Des Imagistes' publication, and its aesthetics harmonize well with the nature of imagistic poetry

Of course I thought of Typesetting The Waste Land which also explore the intersections of poetry, modernism, typography and the internet. I spotted a typo quite quickly and I am certainly not sure that the designer needed to highlight specific passages ("The Burial of the Dead") or render certain elements in different colours ("A Game of Chess"), but as the design pulls away from both the classic Faber and Faber layout (I'd scan a few lines but as per usual my copy's completely ruined) and the standard anthology versions (wherein its typesetting follows all the other texts and you get footnotes at the bottom of the page), it does strikes me as potentially interesting. I just wish the designer had chosen a less .. interpretative .. layout.

In case this sort of thing tickles your fancy - i.e. modernist poetry and print culture - let me recommend Jerome J. McGann's Black Riders: The Visible Language of Modernism (and I wouldn't object to getting it for Christmas, sigh).