Saturday, 30 May 2015

The Virgin and the Inkpot of Proust

Madonna and the Five Angels, by Botticelli, c1480

And sometimes in the evening, when she was tired, he would quietly draw my attention to the way in which she was giving, quite unconsciously, to her pensive hands the uncontrolled, almost distraught movement of the Virgin who dips her pen into the inkpot that the angel holds out to her, before writing upon the sacred page on which is already traced the word "Magnificat." But he added: "Whatever you do, don't say anything about it to her; if she knew she was doing it, she would change her pose at once."

Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time, vol. II.: Within a Budding Grove, p.224.

Monday, 25 May 2015

The material act

As he wrote he engrossed himself in the material act, examining meticulously the pen, writing laboriously upon the high glass-topped desk. Once he raised glazed eyes to look towards the mail department, then glazed his spirit again by concentration upon the objects he dealt with.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tender is the Night, Wordsworth Eds. 2011,  p.76

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Underlining a word was a very serious offence

As for the library, the regulations that had to be followed were singularly severe. Books could not be taken out of the factory under any circumstances; they could be consulted only with the consent of the librarian, Signorina Paglietta. Underlining a word, or just making a mark with pen or pencil, was a very serious offence: Paglietta was expected to check every book, page by page, when returned, and if she found a mark, the book had to be destroyed and replaced at the expense of the culprit.

Primo Levi, The Periodic Table, (Phosphorus),  Penguin 2000, p.94 (first published 1975)

Friday, 15 May 2015

Pencil as phallus

As Salem Sinai is writing (in Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children), history pours out of his body. The past has leaked into him and it is pouring out of his pencil. This all-consuming act of writing has left him devoid of any other desires:

I am unmanned. Despite Padma's many and varied gifts and ministrations, I can't leak into her, not even when she puts her left foot on my right, winds her right leg around my waist, inclines her head up toward mine and makes cooing noises; not even when she whispers in my ear, 'So now that the writery is done, let's see of we can make your other pencil work!'

Salman Rushdie, Midnight's Children, Vintage: 2006 (first published 1981)

Monday, 11 May 2015

Marking deaths

Every morning over breakfast, Herr M. studied the obituary columns in the newspaper, marking the deaths of young women with a mourning stripe of thick black pencil.
Angela Carter, Nights at the Circus, 1984.