29 November 2008

the violence of writing

[Frontispiece to Giovanni Antonio Tagliente's Lo presente libro insegna (1536), showing the tools needed to write.]
At a basic material level, then, writing begins with a tool of violence, the knife or razor, and it produces the point of the quill as another cutting edge. A material sphere is opened by those tools, one that circulates through the violence of the instrument, one that shapes the world, the everyday of the dialogues for the young written by a Vives or an Erasmus, through violence. The instructions in the manuals and the various illustrations play out the possibilities in the relationships between knife and quill: assertions of one instrument or the other, or of a balance between them, structures that are also played out in social relationships between the writer (humanist or not) and the world (court or university, marginal school or business establishment). Whether the emphasis is on the script produced by the quill, or on the quill produced by the knife, a scene of violence (or of violent suppression and displacement) can be read, as in the various scenes of mastery implicated in the texts we have been reading. These multiple relationships are transferred to the page, which acquires depth through incision; the page ... can then serve to compose the instruments, to place them in the service of script.
// Jonathan Goldberg, Writing Matter: From the Hands of the English Renaissance (74-5)

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