With shelving rapidly eaten up by donations and acquisitions we have become inventive storers of books. The dark space under the spare bed is now full, as is the hallway cupboard (along with paint tins and a wicker dragons head). We discovered a void behind the new kitchen cabinets and this has now accepted some volume of our less requested items.
In more normal times we eagerly brought out our books for visitors. We like our books to be hospitable, to enjoy a social life, and in the hands of friendly strangers each book can again briefly be opened as if for the first time, pages unfolded in a reciprocal longing for discovery. This is the kind of day which if it were possible to choose an altogether average sample of our life, I should select’. Woolf, V. Selected Diaries (London: Vintage, 2008). p. 3.A vivid shade of blue once so important to Katherine Mansfield remarked upon and admired. A soft green lining that sets off Marcel Duchamp’s copper initials cooed over. Experiments in type and punctuation, zealous editing, the smudge of a printing plate, all rise to the surface as details to point out to the other, entering a new repository of shared sensations.
In recent weeks, denied our cherished gatherings of visitors and books, denied the communal rituals of holding, passing, showing, our days have lost their shape. Without the regular punctuation of others entering and leaving, a troubling formlessness has taken hold, disrupting our habits and leaving us to drift. The solitude is great. The house is damp. The house is untidy. But there is no alternative’. Ibid, p. 502.Even sunrise and sunset, instead of offering a marked lifting and closing, have recently seemed to shimmer loosely and vaguely, and so we find ourselves listening. The constant hum of books, vibrating in the cavities around us, dare us to break the seal of our bubble and breathe the thick air in.
I have been invited to join a discussion on Zoom. Most of my interactions are rectangular in this way in these days, transported instantly from room to room, with no drifting down corridors, or circling through multiple doorways. In instants we are either together. Or not together.
This conversation, however, feels different. We are being led through a Socratic Dialogue, a special form of consensus making. Like all Zoom calls it feels a little stilted at first, framed faces surfacing simultaneously to speak, overlapping, then drawing back to mute. A consciousness of my own face amongst them. But we slowly get the hang of the unfamiliar rules, learning to test and resist our familiar impulses to speak before listening, to reply before understanding.
We settle on a question for our time together: “How can we have structure and design in our work while also being open to accident, chance and uncertainty?”. Through repeated attempts to find answers to this question we slowly form a common ground, a shared unknowing from where to extract sustenance from one another, and from the printed objects we have each been witness to.
The dialogue is at times like a game of Chinese whispers. Terms are muddied and we are allowed to wander so far from an original thought as to invent it anew. At other times, our host uses us participants as anchors, pins that can reorient us all on the map of the conversation. This collapse and imposition and collapse again of structure feels familiar, and, in the speculative space of a dialogue, welcome. There have been many days of late where, in my comfortable, enforced, domestic pocket the noise of weather and politics, the density of obligations and my own bodily needs, have pressed too hard at either side of the closed window.
We had set out without a predictable endpoint (what bravery, what luxury!). We each press End Meeting.
A pink biro loops around printed words and phrases.
“Huge soft bright pink roses”
A pencil pushes along the margins.
may be written :-
“Huge, soft, bright, pink, roses”
A printing press is heaved onto the dining room table and paper is cut.
But the first wins. Richardson, D. ‘About Punctuation.’ Adelphi, 1 (Apr. 1924): 990-996.
This text has been written in response to participating in the workshop What does it mean to be the ‘fellow-worker and accomplice’ of a (modernist) writer? Organised by the New Modernist Editing network and led by My Bookcase, this workshop took place at the National Library of Scotland and Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art on 7th February 2020. We spent time in their archives handling modernist and artist publications, and were guided through a Socratic Dialogue by Cristina Garriga and Julia Doz from My Bookcase.
While the workshop took place before the Covid-19 crisis of 2020 took hold, this text has been developed and written in the state of lockdown.