10 September 2008

early modern doodles for Mrs. Bean

In Pattern Poetry: Guide to an Unknown Literature, Dick Higgins suggests that handwriting practices of the early modern period, such as elaborate signatures, might be related in some way to pattern poetry.

(from Mary Serjant’s exercises on multiplication, entitled "Mary Serjant her book scholler to Eliz Bean Mrs in the art of writing and arithmetick 1688"; image from Beinecke.)

I kind of like that. In this beautiful image from Beinecke, Mary Serjant has mastered the art of doodling. Curliques trailing an S become a peacock, a flower, a cone of curls, patterns connected to the motion of the hand trapped in the labyrinth (labyrinthine act?) of writing. There's a fluidity between letter and image here -- as there should be -- that seems to become frustratingly solidified when the written word makes its transition into text, into Literature, where all sense of the body or the physical presense of a writer/reader is elided.

I also love that this page full of beautiful flourishes is actually an exercise-book in mathematics, considering the deep connections between pattern poetry and arithmatic. So fitting!

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