Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Pens and pencils in Don De Lillo's Underworld

The desk at the end of the room was out of the thirties in a way, equipped with items fashioned to Edgar's specifications. Two nibbed black pens. Two bottles of Skrip Permanent Royal Blue Ink , No. 52. Six sharpened Eberhard Faber pencils, No. 2. A pair of 5x8 linen-finish writing pads, white. A new 60-watt bulb in the standing lamp. 

[Sister] did penmanship instead, demonstrating on the blackboard the cursive flair of her own hand. She showed the slant, the loop, she stressed the need to stay between the ruled lines, she told them to take their fountain pens and follow the motions she made in the air, and they did, working the wrists, looping in unison, and they shaped a tempestuous capital T that resembled a rowboat in a rainstorm.       Matty sat there nearly spellbound, writing in the air with his brother's old Parker vacumatic, a streaked green model with an arrow clip. 

...and there is the kid with ink on his tongue, there is always a kid with an inky tongue. Waterman's blue-black. What does he do, drink the stuff? 

...because she felt stirrings of information in the dusty corridors of the convent or the school's supply room that smelled of pencil wood and composition books... 

...and you look at the things in the room, offscreen, unwebbed, the tissued grain of the deskwood alive in light, the thick lived tenor of things, the argument of things to be seen and eaten, the apple core going sepia in the lunch tray, and the dense measures of experience in a random glance...the chipped rim of the mug that holds your yellow pencils, skewed all crazy, and the plied lives of the simplest surface, the slabbed butter melting on the crumbled bun, and the yellow of the yellow of the pencils, and you try to imagine the word on the screen becoming a thing in the world... 

Don DeLillo, Underworld, Macmillan: 1998, pp. 560, 718, 776, 250, 827.

Monday, 29 August 2016

The Pen and History by Hillary Mantel

Who leaves a mark on paper? Who decides what's written down as history? Is there a Truth beyond what is taken to be the truth?
"For hundreds of years the monks have held the pen, and what they have written is what we take to be our history, but I do not believe it really is. I believe they have suppressed the history they don't like, and written one that is favourable to Rome."

Thomas Cromwell to Henry VIII in Hilary Mantel's, Wolf Hall, London: Fourth Estate 2010, p. 219.

Saturday, 27 August 2016

A Dusty, Dirty Looking Inkstone

I hate seeing a dusty, dirty-looking inkstone with an inkstick that has been used in a slovenly way so that it is rubbed down on only one side. It also makes an unpleasant impression if someone puts a cap on a writing-brush whose head has become large and shaggy.

It is even more important for a man to keep his writing-table in perfect order. If his inkstone-case is not made in several tiers, it should have two fitted boxes, and its gold lacquer design should be attractive without looking contrived; his inkstick, brush, and other equipment should all be chosen to attract attention.

antique Japanese writing box

Some people seem to think that the actual appearance of their writing utensils is unimportant. They have a box of plain black lacquer with a cracked lid, into this they put a tiled inkstone, which is broken on one side and whose every crack is so embedded with dust that one feels that a lifetime would not be long enough to clean it properly. They rub a little ink on the stone, barely blackening the surface, and pour water over it all out of a celadon jug, whose tortoise-shaped spout is broken so that there is only a gaping neck. Yet they are quite content to let people see this unsightly collection of objects. 

Korean 12thC celadon water jug
Sometimes it will be a woman who has a poor hand yet who always wants to be writing something. She picks up a brush which one has used until it has acquired just the right hardness, and very awkwardly she soaks it in ink. "Is there anything inside this chest?" she asks as she starts scribbling something on the lid. Then she flings one's brush down on its side so that the head is immersed in the ink. Her behaviour is hateful, yet how can one bring oneself to tell her so?

The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon
Sei Shonagon was a court lady in tenth-century Japan. In her Pillow Book she notes down all the things that attract, displease or interest her in daily life. 
Translated by Ivan Morris.

Penguin Classics 1971
pp. 205 -206

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Irritating Things About Ink by Sei Shonagon The Pillow Book

"One finds that a hair has got caught in the stone on which one is rubbing one's inkstick, or again that gravel is lodged in the inkstick, making a nasty, grating sound."

* The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon
Sei Shonagon was a court lady in tenth-century Japan. In her Pillow Book she notes down all the things that attract, displease or interest her in daily life. 
Translated by Ivan Morris.
Penguin Classics 1971