Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Fountain Pentel: The lure of fake

The purist in Palimpsest sees Fountain Pentel and recoils. How dare you, Palimpsest thinks. How very dare you? And yet one is drawn to this impertinent hybrid if only to expose it as the imposter that it is and demolish it. 

What draws the hand to pick up Fountain Pentel is not its novel shape; its dull design and oversize aluminium clip with the lurid red plastic bit at the top doesn't do it any favours. It is the pen's claim to fountain-ness that induces the hand: Fountain Pentel - the claim is intriguing in its impertinence. Fountain is written in a font keen to invoke a sense of flex-nib writing. The silver letters are even embossed in a bid to provide a different visual and tactile experience which would have worked if only said experience was not mired by the unseemly addition of "JM20MB Japan." Nevertheless, I'm nearly sold and if that's not enough the designers of the ordinarily-shaped barrel have one more ace up their sleeves: the marbled effect. Like the fountain pens of old Fountain Pentel is a dark red accentuated by irregular highlights of red. The trick works. I reach for the Fountain Pentel and open the cap.

And lo! What a garishly red and white tip you've got, Fountain Pentel. I test it on a piece of paper resting invitingly on the shelf and yes I am hooked. It is a flexible tip and I can write thick and thin and I want to take it home despite the fact that the writing is noisy and produces a scratchy sound. It is effortless, liquid but smudge-free, fast and totally addictive. And there you have it. I despise the impersonator, deride the imposter but I am a slave to its charms. I am addicted to the Fountain Pentel's ink (which is not the "real thing") and to its flexible tip (which is not a "real nib"). And that says a lot about the lure of ideological hybrids.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Imprint and Trace: The Pencil

"Even now the pencil is not only used by children in their first year of primary school learning to write by motorically practising the form of letters but it is often within reach along with scrap paper at the side of every keyboard. Its technology consists in the ability to create traces that are as durable as ink and at the same time are until the end not in their final form. At any time and in theory ad infinitum, a pencil line can be rubbed out and corrected, over and over again, until the paper gets too thin or tears. All that remains at most are the smudges, or if the pencil and the rubber are hard, ghostly strokes on or engravings in the paper like palimpsests, vestiges of writing, adopting the form of an imprint and scoring themselves more into the tactile deep structure than onto the visible surface of the written material. 

It is precisely in the age of reproductive writing technologies set to bring writing to a definitive form that the pencil is just coming to the top of its game. Even when it is sharpened over and over again till it is nothing but a stub, and even if the word has been printed for some time, the pencil still has something to say: whenever a reader notes something in the margin of a book."


Sonja Neef, Imprint and Trace Handwriting in the Age of Technology, trans. from German by Anthony Mathews, London 2011, p. 116.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Kazuo Ishiguro writing

One of Palimpsest's favourite books is Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day. I was wondering what kind of instrument Ishiguro uses when I came across this piece published in the Paris review where the author explains his writing routine:

I have two desks. One has a writing slope and the other has a computer on it. The computer dates from 1996. It’s not connected to the Internet. I prefer to work by pen on my writing slope for the initial drafts. I want it to be more or less illegible to anyone apart from myself. The rough draft is a big mess. I pay no attention to anything to do with style or coherence. I just need to get everything down on paper. If I’m suddenly struck by a new idea that doesn’t fit with what’s gone before, I’ll still put it in. I just make a note to go back and sort it all out later. Then I plan the whole thing out from that. I number sections and move them around. By the time I write my next draft, I have a clearer idea of where I’m going. This time round, I write much more carefully.


The Paris Review, no. 196
Ishiguro interviewed by Sussanah Hunnewell

Friday, 6 March 2015

The Pencil Case of Kazuo Ishiguro

That morning Ruth had got a chair behind a desk, and I was sitting up on its lid, with two or three others of our group perched or leaning in nearby. In fact, I think it was when I was squeezing up to let someone else in beside me that I first noticed the pencil case.

I can see the thing now like it's here in front of me. It was shiny, like a polished shoe; a deep tan colour with circled red dots drifting all over it. The zip across the top edge had a furry pom-pom to pull it. I'd almost sat on the pencil case when I'd shifted and Ruth quickly moved it out of my way. But I'd seen it, as she'd intended me to, and I said:

"Oh! Where did you get that? Was it in the Sale?"
It was noisy in the room, but the girls nearby had heard, so there were soon four or five of us staring admiringly at the pencil case. Ruth said nothing for a few seconds while she checked carefully the faces around her. Finally she said very deliberately:

"Let's just agree. Let's agree I got it in the Sale." Then she gave us a knowing smile.

Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, London: Faber and Faber 2005