Fig. 06.11.01
A scriptorium. The imaginary space of this construction. [1]

These past two weeks I’ve been finishing another volley of the NewLights broadsides, spending many hours a day cutting and peeling the negative space of text away from the text itself. The process creates its own tracks, is multiply inscriptive, multiply legible. And because of that activity, I have been thinking a lot about “the body writing,” and I have been about thinking the broadsides and the altered books in relation to scribal activity and manuscript books. No conclusions yet, of course. But somewhere I see the slow pulse of a poetics of inscription, of printing, of making. Not a poetics about, but of.
[…] writing is the destruction of every voice, of every point of origin. Writing is that neutral, composite, oblique space where our subject slips away, the negative where all identity is lost, starting with the very identity of the body writing. […] [2]

Barthes uses the term “scriptor” to describe his “modern” author or writer. That particular term is very unstable, especially when examined in relationship to the activity of the scribe, typesetter, and/or printer. Is there a point where “authorship” ends, and “scripting” begins? Is it the point “where all identity is lost, starting with the identity of the body writing”?

So we will start with this term “scriptor,” and begin to map out the space it occupies, or creates…
scribe n. 1. historical a person who copied out documents. informal, often humorous a writer; especially a journalist. 2. Jewish History an ancient Jewish record-keeper or, later, a professional theologian and jurist. 3. (also scriber or scribe awl) a pointed instrument used for making marks to guide a saw or in signwriting. v. 1. chiefly poetic/literary write. 2. mark with a pointed instrument.

script n. 1. handwriting as distinct from print; written characters. writing using a particular alphabet: Russian script. 2. the written text of a play, film, or broadcast. 3. Brit. a candidate’s written answers in an examination. 4. Computing a program or sequence of instructions that is carried out by another program rather than by the computer processor. v. write a script for.

scriptorium n. chiefly historical a room set apart for writing, especially one in a monastery where manuscripts were copied. [3]

[…] the modern scriptor is born simultaneously with the text, is in no way equipped with a being preceding or exceeding the writing, is not the subject with the book as predicate; there is no other time than that of the enunciation and every text is eternally written here and now. The fact is (or, it follows) that writing can no longer designate an operation of recording, notation, representation, ‘depiction’ (as the Classics would say); rather, it designates exactly what linguists, referring to Oxford philosophy, call a performative, a rare verbal form (exclusively given in the first person and in the present tense) in which the enunciation has no other content (contains no other proposition) than the act by which it is uttered—something like the I declare of kings or the I sing of very ancient poets. […] For [the modern scriptor] […] the hand, cut off from any voice, borne by a pure gesture of inscription (and not of expression), traces a field without origin—or which, at least, has no other origin than language itself, language which ceaselessly calls into question all origins. […] [4]

Fig. 06.11.02
Marking/making the word & the book is a game with serious consequences. "The Cathedral of Fulda preserves an early theological manuscript whose wooden covers are reputedly scored with the marks of sword blows received when St. Boniface, a German evangelist in the eighth century, used the book as a shield to ward off a pagan attack. The book was none too effective in this respect, and Boniface was killed, but the book has been held as a treasured relic ever since." [5] The imaginary space of this construction.

1. Image from: Warren Chappell, A Short History of the Printed Word, (Boston: Nonpareil Books, 1980), 4.

2. Roland Barthes, “The Death of the Author,” Image — Music — Text, trans. Stephen Heath (New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1977), 142.

3. Definitions are from the Concise Oxford English Dictionary, Revised Tenth Edition, 2002.

4. Roland Barthes, “The Death of the Author,” Image — Music — Text, trans. Stephen Heath (New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1977), 145-6.

5. Image and description from: David Pearson, Books As History: The importance of books beyond their texts, (London: The British Library and Oak Knoll Press, 2008), 132-3.

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