Thursday, 29 April 2010

A Cue at Billiards and a Pencil by Thackeray

 Man playing billiards with cue and woman with mace, 
from an illustration appearing on page 44 of Michael Phelan's 1859 book,  
The Game of Billiards (D. Appleton & Company, New York). 

To use a cue at billiards well is like using a pencil, or a German flute, or a small-sword—you cannot master any one of these implements at first, and it is only by repeated study and perseverance, joined to a natural taste, that a man can excel in the handling of either.

William M. Thackeray, Vanity Fair, 1848.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Post a Stub: Three Pencils from The Peaceable Writer

Although the lovely Peaceable Writer blog is all about pens and their adventures, its author Julie kindly responded to Palimpsest's Post a Stub with the following:

I’ve stopped using pencils in favor of fountain pens. When I was young I favored a soft No. 2 yellow pencil to write with because writing in ink was too much of a commitment to the words. Today I own all the words I write. Even the ones I throw away. There are two pencils in my pen cup. One is from a favorite bookstore in my hometown, San Francisco. The other is from Playbill magazine because I am a theatre geek and it makes me smile. Pencils now are mostly remembrances of places I’ve been and if there are free pencils instead of business cards or matches, I always take one. A third pencil sits in my pen box. It is 1930’s Wahl-Oxford pencil. It’s pretty but I don’t know what to do with it. It’s too much of a commitment to graphite.

Text and photos by The Peaceable Writer

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Bloggers of Pen, Pencil, Ink. And Paper.

Bloggers of Pen, Pencil, Ink and Paper are many. In the five months since I joined their ranks I have encountered a few and some of them grace with their names my Blogroll. It is a pleasure to visit them every day or every other day and see their words and images. They are wizards. Wizards in that they wave their inky wands with the same ease as they tap their keyboards and hit the button of their cameras and use graphite and ink and mark paper as they negotiate their WP and Blogger and Feedburner.

The photos of Dave's Mechanical Pencils are so quirky and creative - his writing instruments placed on such appropriate settings - that his reviews gain a new depth and interest. The Pen Addict is always precise, detailed, consistent and shares the wisdom with his ink links. There's an almost culinary feel in Lady Dandelion's blog as she combines inks and pens with food and flowers. Hers, I feel, is a fragrant blog. Pocket Blonde is bursting with ink, pen and notepad reviews.

PencilTalk has such meticulous reviews with sharp images to match - a great source for the pencil enthusiast since 2005 (beat that). Lexikaliker, a German blog, with amazing images of old pen and pencil advertisements (constantly reminds me to improve my German so that I can follow his words). I love Inkophile's delicious writing in ink - it makes me want to buy all the inks s/he reviews. I always drop in to A Penchant for Paper and Unposted to see what treasures they have unearthed.

What to say of Rhodia Drive and Quo Vadis: they rock and they roll. I bow to and salute their astonishing ware. Whatever's reviews are also a delight as are her Tweets - a sunny presence in a fast world. is the source of my beloved Palomino pencils and many more pencil delights. Match the dedication of Notebook Stories to noteboooks, journals, diaries and sketchbooks. Inkyjournal's blog with its dark background and luxurious writing instruments and inks transports me to a dream world where my desk is equipped only with the best writing implements.

Leigh Reyes amazes me with her creativity and her ways with the nib. Similarly fascinating are Journaling Arts ways with the journal. I'm getting to know the Peaceable Writer recently - look out for her coming contribution to Palimpsest's Post a Stub. Last but not least is Ink Quest. To my inkmost distress Ink Quest has terminated his blog of 5 years, deleting his archive and posting a Samuel Beckett quote in lieu of an epitaph. I strongly appeal to him to reconsider. My blog world is poorer without him.

Has Ink Quest's Ink Been Eradicated?

Friday, 23 April 2010

Fading Ink by William Thackeray

Vows, love, promises, confidences, gratitude, how queerly they read after a while! There ought to be a law in Vanity Fair ordering the destruction of every written document (except receipted tradesmen's bills) after a certain brief and proper interval. Those quacks and misanthropes who advertise indelible Japan ink should be made to perish along with their wicked discoveries. The best ink for Vanity Fair use would be one that faded utterly in a couple of days, and left the paper clean and blank, so that you might write on it to somebody else.

Text by William Makepeace Thackeray, Vanity Fair, London 1848.
Photos by Palimpsest.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Patriotic Palimpsest, 21 April 1967

The contribution of the military coup that took place in Greece in the early hours of April 21, 1967 to my childhood memories consists of hushed adult conversations and sweaty blue exercise books written on by Bic. And a bird. For seven years every school book in Greece would carry the print of a bird at the back page: a phoenix consumed by or bathing in flames, wings outstretched - behind the dark outline of a soldier. What was the metaphor? Greece being reborn of its own ashes to which it had been previously reduced by the evils of parliamentarism and communism? Or Greece being consumed by the purifying flames of autocracy so that it could emerge anew? I never knew. I was busy sweating over the aforementioned exercise books.

Patriotically blue: the staple of my early school years were these plasticated affairs, blue to match the colour of our national flag, sweaty to match the smell of our fear. There were patterns: weaving patterns, chequered patterns, sometimes tiny stars. A clear pocket at the front cover held a card with preprinted ΤΕΤΡΑΔΙΟΝ (exercise book) Τ_ Μαθ_ (Of the Pupil) where I faithfully wrote my name - Ταξεως (Grade). The exercise books pages' were held together with staples which dug deep into the plasticated blue covers.

The neat handwriting in blue Bic is only interrupted by the teacher's markings in red Bic ("Pay attention"- "Well Done" - "Unjustified mistakes" - "Wrong" - "Bravo, Lito"). I remember my hand sweating holding the blue Bic. 1973. The fear of mistakes looming together with the impossibility of erasure. A razor blade was utilised to scrape off the Bic ink, eliminate the mistake - the thin paper getting thinner, its fibres feathering with every scratch.

And now the blue exercise books are palimpsests. The Bic writings have bled through the pages, the back page shining through the front, the letters dissolving from dark blue to watery azure. In the Arithmetic book additions and subtructions are overlapping; all the ingredients of practical arithmetic problems - 425 sacks of cement, 1805 train passengers, 1 kg of butter for 56 drachmas, 27 kg of soft cheese, 15 metres of pipes and 960 pocket handkerchiefs - are bleeding ink onto each other.

In the Grammar exercise book all the phrases are overlapping too. The evil patriotism of the 21st April 1967 regime has bled into punctuation and syllabication exercises. Words and phrases about God, Motherland, Nature, Cleaniness, Obedience are punctuated and syllabicated, neat, corrected, underlined, mistakes scratched away, and a grade applied in red Bic:

Οι καλοί μαθηταί εργάζονται και στο σπίτι τους και στο σχολείο προσεκτικά.
Τhe good puplis work attentively at home and in school.
 Αγαπώ πολύ την καθαριότητα.
I love cleaniness very much.
 Όλοι οι γεωργοί δουλεύουν στα χωράφια, οργώνουν και σπέρνουν τον ευλογημένο καρπό.
All farmers work in the fields plowing and planting the blessed seed.
 Ο στρατιώτης πηγαίνει να πολεμήση.
The soldier goes to fight.
 Δίνω το λόγο μου πως θα γίνω καλό παιδί.

I give my word I shall become a good child.
 Κάθε Κυριακή πηγαίνομε στην εκκλησία. Εκεί ο παπάς μας ευλογεί, κι εμείς του φιλούμε με σεβασμό το χέρι. Τις άλλες ημέρες πηγαίνομε στο αγαπημένο μας σχολείο.
Every Sunday we go to church. There the priest blesses us and we respectfully kiss his hand. The rest of the week we go to our beloved school.
 Αμα τ' αγαπάς αυτά, αγαπάς την πατρίδα σου.

If you love these, you love your country.

As I was writing about the nightingale singing at the beautiful sunset on 15 November 1973 the Athens Polytechnic student anti-junta revolt was under way.

Monday, 19 April 2010

The Pen of Hermann Hesse

One day I discovered an entirely new joy. Suddenly, at the age of forty, I began to paint. Not that I considered myself a painter or intended to become one. But painting is marvelous; it makes you happier and more patient. Afterwards you do not have black fingers as with writing, but red and blue ones.
 Herman Hesse

I'm interested in the process where the writing instrument is transformed into an art tool. How the writer who thinks in words is drawn into thinking in images. I think it was Freud who said that thinking in images being closer to the unconscious processes, it is rare that a way with words coexists with a gift for illustrations. But there are notable examples of writers who also drew.

Thakeray illustrated his Vanity Fair, indeed intended his illustrations to be an integral part of his novel. Rudyard Kipling used India ink both for editing his work and creating the images that illustrate his stories. Victor Hugo was an accomplished artist using ink in imaginative ways. Herman Hesse too drew from nature using watercolours and India ink.

Schneider writes that Hesse started painting around 1917 probably under the influence of his psychotherapy sessions with C.G. Lang who encouraged him to take up this form of self-expression. Hesse commented on the comforting impact of painting on his life. The author of Sindartha and Steppenwolf delighted in watercolours and painted a series of landscapes, trees, flowers and houses in abstract and realistic styles. But in his later years he abandoned colourfulness and turned to India ink.

Herman Hesse and his pen. Photo from Trash Kulture

Hesse learnt how to incorporate his writing into his drawings "with the ease of a graphic artist, as in the illustration of his poem Ein Traum (A Dream). His rhythmical yet always readable lettering corresponds to the very motif of twilight expressed in dreamy blue shades", writes Schneider. 

"As a poet I would not have made so much progress without painting." Painting had enabled him, as he points out, to take "a detached view of literature".

What do you think about drawing/painting as a means to detach from or attach oneself to literature?

 Hermann Hesse, "Life story, briefly told", trans. Denver Lindley in Egon Schwarz (ed.), Herman Hesse, Sindartha, Demian and Other Writings, Continuum Publishing Co. 1992; Christian Immo Schneider, "Herman Hesse as a Poet and Painter", Central Washington University 5/22/98. See here a Herman Hesse online gallery.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

The Pen of Thomas Mann

Working without pen and ink is something one scarcely dares to call "work", even to oneself, 
writes Thomas Mann to his brother Heinrich on December 29, 1900. The author of the Magic Mountain used to work almost exclusively in the morning hours, from 9 to noon, or 12:30 producing one and a half manuscript pages, as he writes to Austrian writer and journalist, Viktor Polzer in 1940. His slowness he attributes to "severe self-criticism", and the high requirements of form but also to

the "symbolic content" of style, in which every word and every phrase counts, for one never knows what part one's present phraseology may have to play as a motif within the total work.

Thomas Mann writes to Polzer that he works by himself and writes by hand using "what is here called a desk fountain pen instead of the steel nib". Perhaps he stopped using a steel nib in 1907 when he writes to his brother: "I can't be very coherent (we are breaking up our household here, now reduced really to complete disarray and I'm writing with a fountain pen I'm not yet used to)". But who knows?

Thomas Mann and his fountain pen, ca. 1939

Mont Blanc has produced a Thomas Mann fountain pen as part of its Writers Limited Edition, inspired by Mann's masterpiece Buddenbrooks. InkyJournal has got a review with excellent photos too.

Thomas Mann to Heinrich Mann, December 29, 1900; 7 June 1907, in Letters of Heinrich and Thomas Mann, 1900-1949, Weimar & Now: German Cultural Criticism, U. of California Press 1992; Thomas Mann to Viktor Polzer, March 23, 1940 in Richard Winston, Clara Winston, Letters of Thomas Mann, 1889-1955, University of California Press, 1992

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Nabokov Writing in Pencil

The marvels of Google News: I came across this article from The News and Courier CHARLESTON EVENING POST, vol. 3, No. 41, 16 January 1977. Associated Press Special Correspondent Hugh A. Mulligan (1925-2008) interviews Vladimir Nabokov in Switzerland, where the novelist lives in "lonely luxury in a deluxe hotel suite overlooking Lake Geneva since 1961". 

Contrary to the fame of Lolita, Nabokov professes himself to be "obscure, doubly obscure novelist with an unpronounceable name". Nabokov does all his writing in pencil, reports Mulligan, on large index cards while standing at a lectern "which faces a bright corner of the room instead of the bright audiences of my professional days".

He doesn't belong to any club or group, he says. He doesn't fish, cook, dance, endorse books, go to church, go to analysts or take part in demonstrations. He may well be one of Tony Judt's Edge People:
I am an American writer, born in Russia and educated in England where I studied French literature before spending 15 years in Germany.

See Nabokov Still Wields Pencil in The News and Courier, 16 January 1977.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

A Pencil for the Cookie Monster

Palimpsest has been put to shame by Sesame Street's Cookie Monster. The aforementioned celebrity is shown not to write or talk about a pencil but actually consume one. Ink Quest was right to bring this episode of pencil feasting to Palimpsest's attention - I am sure that fantasising about chocolate-covered-marshmallow-with-jelly-inside cookies must have helped with graphite ingestion. Ink Quest would agree that the recording of this pencil incident must be included in Palimpsest's archive for future reference. Here it is:

 Bon appetit.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Copying Pencils

Copying pencils were first introduced in the 1870s for use in the letterpress copying process. They produced writing more indelible than the regular graphite pencils because they contained aniline dyes. Copying pencils were used in James Watt's wet transfer copying process in the 1870s and later in the hectograph (1880) and spirit duplicator (1923). For all you ever wanted to know about copying pencils but you were afraid to ask Read The Copying Pencil: Composition, History, and Conservation Implications in The Pencil Pages.

 Copying Pencils (Pedigree and Puma) displayed in the Keswick Pencil Museum, Cumbria, England

See also the extensive The Hidden Life of Copying Pencils by PencilTalk.

Friday, 9 April 2010

My Inkstand is my Palette. Victor Hugo.

Almost all his drawings are commentaries upon his thoughts, writes Barbou in Victor Hugo and his Time. His pen had more charms to him than his pencil and with a hat as his easel, Victor Hugo discovers that drawing from nature can be combined with his literary pursuits. "A chance blot of ink will soon be subject to the most startling metamorphoses, art coming in to finish what fancy begun".
My inkstand is generally my palette; if I want a lighter shade, a glass of water is my only requisite, though a few drops of coffee are occasionally very useful.
 Many of his compositions, writes Barbou, are of the banks of the Rhine with their castles and ruins and he has got a loving veneration for the Middle Ages. "He takes an evident delight in the dilapidated fabrics, the crumbling ceilings and the broken mullions, deprecating from his very soul all modern attempts to restore them".

Alfred Barbou, Frewer Ellen Elizabeth, Victor Hugo and his Time, New York: Harper Brothers, 1882. Cornell University Library. Internet Archive. See also Florian Rodari, Shadows of a Hand. The Drawings of Victor Hugo, Merrell Holberton 1998.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Ink Kisses By Emile Zola

 Photo by Athena's pix

But just as Madame Maloir was going off to fetch the cards herself from a drawer in the sideboard, Nana said that before they started, it'd be very kind if she could write a letter for her. She found writing a bore and she wasn't sure of the spelling, whereas her old friend could turn out letters straight from the heart. She ran out to get some of her best writing-paper from her bedroom. An ink-well and a cheap bottle of ink were lying about on a chair, together with a pen thick with rust.

The letter was to Daguenet. Without being told, Madame Maloir wrote "My little darling" in her best cursive; she then told him not to come tomorrow because "it wasn't possible", but that, wherever she might be, "he was always in her thoughts".

And I'll end with "a thousand kisses", she murmured.

Madame Lerat was nodding approval at every word. Her eyes were gleaming; she adored being involved in love affairs. And she even wanted to add a little touch of her own, whispering in a melting voice:

"A thousand kisses on your lovely eyes."

"That's it, a thousand kisses on your lovely eyes", repeated Nana, as a blissful expression spread over the two old women's faces.

Emile Zola and inkwell

 Emile Zola, Nana, first published 1880, Charpentier: Paris.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Dickens' Old Curiosity Shop: A Lesson in Ink

Kit's writing lesson:

To relate... how when he did sit down he tucked up his sleeves and squared his elbows and put his face close to the copy-book and squinted horribly at the lines - how from the very first moment of having the pen in his hand, he began to wallow in blots, and to daub himself with ink up to the very roots of his hair - how if he did by accident form a letter properly, he immediately smeared it out again with his arm in his preparations to make another - how every fresh mistake, there was a fresh burst of merriment from the child and a louder and not less hearty laugh from poor Kit himself - and how there was all the way through, notwithstanding, a gentle wish on her part to teach, and an anxious desire on his learn - to relate all these particulars would no doubt occupy more space and time than they deserve. It will be sufficient to say that the lesson was given - that evening passed and night came on -

 Photo by L. Apostolakou

Charles Dickens, The Old Curiosity Shop with the original illustrations, Oxford University Press 1998.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Invisible Ink

One of the blessings of living in the Great Island of Britain over Easter (especially over Easter) is that I get to not be Greek. Easter traditions here in London evolve around M&S chocolate eggs, the Easter bunny and the egg hunt. I'm sure some people go to church. But I'm not aware of them. I just love how the evils of globalisation, consumerism and immigration have loosened the noose of tradition, family duty and national identity. And I shall remember on this Easter weekend the wonderful essay of Tony Judt I read in the New York Review of Books blog Edge People:
I prefer the edge: the place where countries, communities, allegiances, affinities, and roots bump uncomfortably up against one another—where cosmopolitanism is not so much an identity as the normal condition of life. ... I believe I can understand and even empathize with those who know what it means to love a country. I don’t regard such sentiments as incomprehensible; I just don’t share them. ... Far from being rootless, I am all too well rooted in a variety of contrasting heritages.
 Photo from planningforfun

So here we go. Instead of dyeing and decorating Easter eggs why don't you crash them to make ink. Crack an egg and separate the white from the yellow. Dip a quill or pen nib in the white and start writing. Invisible! Should you want to read your invisible message heat the paper with a hot iron or a candle. Happy Easter writing.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Free market, Milton Friedman and the Pencil

A yellow pencil in the hands of Milton Friedman teaches the virtues of free market.

"What brought [people of different cultures and religions] together, induce them to cooperate to make this pencil? It was the magic of the price system. The impersonal operation of prices that brought them together and got them to cooperate to make this pencil so that you can have it for a trifling sum. That is why the operation of the free market is so essential. Not only to promote productive efficiency but even more to foster harmony and peace among the people's of the world".
 Religion comes to mind. The impersonal operation of prices being God, the lumberjacks of Washington unite with the graphite miners of South America, fraternise with the rubber tree growers of Malaysia, hold hands with the New York pencil buyers, under His infinite wisdom. They are all Free Market God's children: the pencil paint applicators, the brass ferrule fitters, the pencil lead sharpeners,  the stationers, the miners,  students and lumberjacks - and live in peace and harmony ever after. Long live capitalism. Amen.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Lady Chatterley's Lover and the Blue Pencil

Blue is a primary color. Blue means "puritanical". A blue law is a law set up for the rigid control of moral and conduct. "Blue": Indecent, Obscene.
Joseph Roppolo

When Penguin announced in May 1960 that it was going to publish 200,000 copies of D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover, a book banned since its publication in 1928, there was a flurry of activity. The Director of Public Prosecutions decided to prosecute, the attorney general agreed and there was a rush to find witnesses from the literary world to testify to the novel's "gratuitous filth".

In his Bound and Gagged A Secret History of Obsenity in Britain, Alan Travis relates how the Public Prosecutions Office compiled a list of offending words. "Blue pencil" in hand they counted all the "filth" and concluded that the word "fuck" or "fucking" appeared no fewer than 30 times. The trial came to nothing as the only witness the prosecution could produce was Detective Inspector Charles Monahan - alone against the defence's 35 witnesses, including Dame Rebecca West, EM Forster and Helen Gardner.

But the blue pencil of censorship continued to make its mark. Lord Chamberlain's Office, the official censor of theatrical performances until 1968, was going to allow the performance of Lady Chatterley's Lover in London's West End under the condition that offending words would be censored. The actors should appear fully dressed, "Connie must never wear less than the stated slip, which must be opaque", "Mellors must be reasonably clothed". The Lord Chamberlain's directions were clear

"you will appreciate, and in fact I am to make quite plain to you, that the Lord Chamberlain will not allow 'Mellors' and 'Connie' to appear to be together under a blanket in a naked condition whether this actually is or is not so. In allowing them to appear on the stage under a blanket the Lord Chamberlain is making a very definite concession, and because of this he asks me to give a particular warning that no love making beyond that actually noted in the Stage Directions submitted will be allowed."

Joseph P. Roppolo's article "Blue: Indecent, Obscene", American Speech, vol.28, No. 1 (Feb. 1953), looks interesting although I wasn't able to access it. On the Red Pencil of Censorship see Chekhov.