Paul Fournel: Need for the Bike

There is so much to say about this little book by cyclist, writer, publisher and OULIPO-member Paul Fournel, that I do not know where to begin. It is perfect. It captures what riding the bike is about, in just a few works, a few sentences he describes the essential.

Why, you ask, gather all these data about rides, how far and how fast, measured by computers and GPS-devices, when you need just a few well chosen words that condense the reality of it. (Ezra Pound: ‘Dichten’ is condensare).

I recognize almost everything in Fournel’s ‘need for the bike’. Which, I guess, is a way to say I am a cyclist like him. (Only I think he’s way faster, more competitive, I never did any sports prior to buying a racing bike when I was 30, I am a late-comer).

Just a few quotes — in English (the translation is by Allan Stoekl, the book is published by the University of Nebraska Press):

“Bike speed requires you to be selective about what you see, you reconstruct what you sense, In that way you get to the essential. Your gaze brushes over the title of a book or a cover, a newspaper catches your eye, you glimpse a potential gift in a window, a new bread in a bakery. That’s the proper speed of my gaze. It’s a writer’s speed, a speed that filters and does a preliminary selection.” (p. 44/45)

“As soon as I knew how to ride I grasped the idea of a greater world. When I left tot do a circuit, everything inside the circuit was ‘home’.” (p. 63)

“Road maps for me are dream machines. I like to read them as if they’re adventure stories. When I drive my car I use them to find the shortest route, to find the long roads where cities join, roads that don’t go through the country. As a bike rider I use them for everything else. If I know an area, every centimeter on the map is a landscape laid out for me. If I don’t know it yet, every centimeter is an imagined landscape that I will explore.” (p. 79)

For me maps are dream machines too. And there is the reason why I still use maps, and do not have a GPS device — though I am fascinated by how these technologies change one’s relation toward space, landscape and dreaming. I find it impossible to dream while staring at Google maps and Google Earth.

Should I write an essay on that?

(Btw: thanks to Alex Myers for bringing this book to my attention)

Paul Fournel is here:

Roger Chartier: Inscription and Erasure

Almost two weeks ago, while staying in North Groningen, I read Roger Chartier’s Inscription and Erasure. Nuanced and well-argued short essays, a pleasure to read. Chartier combines history of written culture with sociology of texts, focuses the attention on the material side of the culture, and at the same time is an acute reader of the texts under scrutiny.

With these chapters:

I Wax & Parchment: about the use of wax tablets by the poet Baudri de Ourgueil, 11th century.
II Writing & Memory: about the ‘librillo’ in Don Quichotte — according to Chartier this is a booklet of wax tablets.
III The Press & Fonts: about Don Quichotte in the print shop, printing as work, copy-editing, proof-reading.
IV Handwritten Newsletters, Printed Gazettes: about 16th century handwritten manuscripts with news, copied for the powerful and rich; described via the satirizing of newsprint in comedies of Ben Jonson. Shows how printing was bound up in commercialism, printing what will sell rather than what is true, printing what has a success with the public.
V Talking books and Clandestine Manuscripts: about Cyrano de Bergerac whose works were circulated as manuscripts, never printed.
VI Text & Fabric: with an overview of the use of the weaving as metaphor for text, mostly by way of a comedia of Goldoni, and about Goldoni’s postion as a writer.
VII Commerce in the Novel: an essay about Diderot’s reception of Richardson and how the Richardson-novels led to a new idea about what constitutes good reading: namely a sympathic way of reading, identification of the reader with the characters is central, and valued positive.
VIII Epilogue Diderot & his Pirates: about copyright and Diderot’s ambiguous take on it.

I won’t copy all my notes here, though I do copy the quotes:

“By refusing to seperate the analysis of symbolic meanings from that of the material forms by which they are transmitted, such an approach sharply challenges the longstanding division between the sciences of interpretation and those of description, hermeneutics and morpholopgy.”(p. vii/viii)

“.. they involve the manifold, shifting, and unstable relation between the text and its materialities, between the work and its inscriptions.” (p. ix)

“It is therefore pointless to try to distinguish the essential substance of the work, which is supposed to remain invariable, from the accidental variations of the text, which are viewed as unimportant for its meaning.” (p. ix)

“Compared with the books that came out of print shops, manuscripts offered many advantages. For one thing, it allowed for controlled and limited diffusion of texts without the risk that they might fall into the hands of ignorant readers, since they circulated within a distinct social milieu defined by family ties, similar social status, or shared sociability. For another the very form of the manuscript book left it open to correction, deletion, and insertion at all stages of production, from composition to copying and binding, so that the writing could proceed in successive stages (…) or by several hands (…). Finally manuscript publication was a response to corruptions introduced by printing: it rescued the commerce of letters from economic interests (except when it too a commercial form itself, as with handwritten newsletters), and it protected works from the alterations introduced by clumsy compositors and ignorant proofreaders.” (p. 76)

[In the chapter on Richardson and Diderot (VII Commerce in the Novel) Chartier returns to the idea of a reading revolution in the eighteenth century, the presumed birth of extensive reading that took the place of intensive reading. Although he acknowledges that a lot changes, he does not believe that extensive reading took te place of intensive reading.]

“The eigtheenth-century novel took hold of the reader, captivated him, governed his thoughts and actions. It was read and re-read, studied, quoted and recited. The reader was invaded by the text , which came to dwell within him, and through identification with the heroes of the story he began to decipher his own life in the mirror of fiction.” (p. 114)

[But this is not enough to invalidate the idea of a revolution in writing:]

“Throughout enlightened Europe, profound changes transformed the production of print and the conditiosn of access to books, despite the stability of typographic technology and labor. Everywhere the growing supply of books, the secularization of the titles on offer, the circulation of banned books, the proliferation of periodicals, the triumph of small formats, and the mushrooming of literary cabinets and reading societies (…) imposed new ways of reading.” (p. 114)

“For the most literate readers of both sexes, the possibilites of reading seemed to expand, opening the way for a variety of practices associated with different times, places and genres. Each reader was thus at one time or another either “intensive” or “extensive”, absorbed, or casual, studious or amused.” (p. 114)

“This diversity suggests tht any full historical approach to literary texts should avoid the temptation to universalize any particular mode of reading and should rather seek to identify the specific skills and practices of each community of readers and the specific codes and conventions associated with each genre.” (p. 115)

“One of the principal tasks of combining textual criticism with cultural history is precisely to dispel this illusion.” (namely the illusion of the reader that he is forgetting his own social conditions of production). (p. 115)

“Paradoxically, in order for texts to be subjected to the laws of property governing material objects, it was necessary to divorce them conceptually from any particular material embodiment. But composition, copying,, and printing require stylus or a pen, wax or paper, a hand or a press. And works reach their readers or listeners only by way of objects and practices tha make them available to be read or listened to.” (p. 143)

Chartier, Roger. 2007. Inscription and Erasure, Literature and Written Culture from the Eleventh to the Eighteenth Century, translated by Arthur Goldhammer, Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press. (orig. 2005 Inscrire et effacer).

en,quotations,reading matter,research,ubiscribe,writing | October 18, 2008 | 0:44 | Comments Off on Roger Chartier: Inscription and Erasure |

Febvre & Martin: The Coming of the Book

This is a classic from the Annales-school, published originally in 1958. It sets out to meticulously describe the impact of printing, based on empirical/archival research, combining the perspectives of technology, economy, culture, politics, sociology. It’s a bit dry, not only because of the Annales-style of socio-economic history, but also because a lot is well-known from later studies. Well, it’s a classic…

I am not enough of a book-historian to assess the actual importance of this book as I do not really know how much has been made even clearer or is refuted by the subsequent research in this field. But Febvre & Martin ask the right questions, the research is thorough, claims are backed-up by numbers (that is the real power of this work), and there are some sobering thoughts for those who’d like to believe that printing meant an immediate ‘revolution’ — with positive effects — for our ‘mentality’ and culture.

They write:

“(W)e hope to establish how and why the printed book was something more than a triumph of technical ingenuity, but was also one of the most potent agents at disposal of western civilization in bringing together the scattered ideas of representative thinkers.” p. 10


“We propose (…) to examine the influence and the practical significance of the printed book during the first 300 years of its existence.” p. 11

Compared to a McLuhan the quotability of this book is not very high. But this is an interesting thought:

“From time to time writers turned printer — to print their own works, see them through the press ensuring their accuracy and good appearance, supervise their distribution and so have a direct influence on the reading public. This was and always will be an ambition common to many intellectuals. At times of intellectual crisis and of conflicts over questions of conscience, when polemical literature flourishes, this will be particularly the case.” p. 143

The last chapter is entitled “The Book as a Force of Change”. From their research it becomes clear that there was a swift change (p. 249): about 20 million books (copies) were printed before 1500 (p. 248). Then they ask:

“What was the result of it? What kind of books did the public want from its printers and booksellers? To what extent did printing ensure a wider circulation for the traditional medieval texts? How much of that heritage did it preserve? In making a sharp break with in the material conditions of intellectual work did the press promote the growth of a new type of literature?” (p. 249)

A digest from this (long) chapter:

“One fact must not be lost sight of: the printer and the bookseller worked above all and from the beginning for profit.” (p. 249)

“(T)he immediate effect of printing was merely to further increase the circulation of those works which had already enjoyed success in manuscript, and often to consign less popular texts to oblivion.” (p. 249)

“By multiplying books by the hundred and then thousand, the press achieved both increased volume and at the same time more rigorous selection.” (p. 249)

(In the beginning, before 1500, most books (77%) were Latin, and the majority were religious books).

“The reading public was extended by the sheer number of books which reached wider and wider audiences with increasing ease.” (p. 252)

“Printing also made for a more exact knowledge of the Latin language and of the authors of classical antiquity.” (p. 252)

“At the same time we must also note that the Latin classics which were the greatest success for publishers undoubtedly continued to be those which had been most popular in the Middle Ages, those which had most frequently been adapted and translated into the vernacular.” (p. 253)

“It is fairly evident at the outset that printing brought about no sudden or radical transformation, and contemporary culture hardly seems at first to have changed, at least as regards its general characteristics. But selection soon became imperative as the decision had to be made which of the many thousands of medieval manuscript were worth printing. (…) (B)ooksellers were primarily concerned to make a profit (…) and consequently they sought out first and foremost those works which were of interest to the largest possible number of their contemporaries. Hence the introduction of printing was in this respect a stage on the road to our present society of mass consumption and of standardisation.” (p. 260)

But things change too:

“Contemporary writers who had their names attached to hundreds and thousands of copies of their work became conscious of their individual reputations. This (…) was also a sign of a new age when artists began to sign their works, and authorship takes on an altogether new significance. Rapidly, under the mounting flood of new books written for an ever increasing public, the heritage of the Middle Ages lost its hold.” (p. 261)

“(B)y the 16th century the printed book (…) played a central role in the diffusion of knowledge of classical literature (…) and later in the propagation of Reformation doctrines; it helped to fix the vernacular languages and encouraged the development of national literatures.” (p. 262)

“Book production in the first decades of the 16th century shows a clear line of development (…). Religious works were still preponderant, and in fact more were probably printed that in the 15th century, but with the overall increase in production the proportion of religious books decreased markedly, while the constantly growing quantity of classical works is striking.” (p. 264)

(Febvre & Martin remark that while national vernacular languages were born, it was the translators that “helped to preserve the homogeneity of European culture” — as research shows that many works were translated.) (p. 274)

“Latin as the international language did not decline fully until the 17th century. By then the establishment of national literatures everywhere had begun to split up the book market, a process which was encouraged by the development of effective political and religious censorship. Permanent divisions were established between the cultures of the different countries of Europe.” (p. 274)

“Although printing certainly helped scholars in some fields, on the whole it could not be said to have hastened the acceptance of new ideas or knowledge. In fact, by popularising long cherished beliefs, strengthening traditional prejudices and giving authority to seductive fallacies, it could even been said to have represented an obstacle to the acceptance of many new views.” (p. 278)

” There thus took place a process of unification and consolidation which established fairly large territories throughout which a single language was written. Within these territories the languages which are still today the languages of each nation more or less rapidly attained their definitive development. Spelling also became fixed. It came to correspond less and less with pronunciation and was sometimes complicated by the influence exerted upon it by the classical languages. Printing was not the only factor which acted to bring about this evolution. (…) The emergence or strengthening of centralising national monarchies in the 16th century favoured the trend toward a unified national language.” (p. 319)

“(T)here is no doubt that printing generally favoured the development of literature written in the vernacular. Printing thus helped to render the national languages increasingly sophisticated as modes of expression.” (p. 328)

A-and their final sentence:

“So, by encouraging publication in the national languages for economic reasons, the book trade was in the end fostering the development of those languages — and bringing about the decline of Latin. This was to be a fateful development. It marked, it is true, the origin of a culture belonging to the masses, but its consequences, once set in motion were incalculable. The unified Latin culture of Europe was finally dissolved by the rise of the vernacular languages which was consolidated by the printing press.” (p. 332)

A-ah: so the whole book was about the decline of Latin… ;-)

Febvre, Lucien and Martin, Henri-Jean, 1997. The Coming of the Book. The Impact of Printing 1450-1800. Translated by David Gerard. London: Verso. Translation of L’apparition du livre, 1958.

en,quotations,research,ubiscribe | October 3, 2008 | 12:25 | comments (1) |

Language and the Internet

Recently read (or better ‘read thru’) David Crystal’s Language and the Internet (originally 2001, updated second version 2006). I’d never picked that one up. It is a good overview of the various aspects of online language use, from creative spellings in chatrooms, via the writing style of bloggers up to influence of spellcheckers, search engines and the language problems surrounding the Semantic Web. It is a survey of the Internet from a linguistic perspective. I find myself generally agreeing with all his points — I take a positive approach to language online as Crystal does.

He writes:

“I do not see the Internet being the death of languages, but the reverse. I view each of the Netspeak situations as an area of huge potential enrichment for individual languages.” p. 275

And his final sentence:

“The arrival of Netspeak is showing us homo loquens at its best.” p. 276

So hmm, I do not have a lot to say about this book. (Except that I find the term Netspeak extremely ugly.) Also because I am more interested in writing style, literature, media theory, and less in language use in e-mail, chats, sms-dialogues and programming.

So I cut-n-paste together just one passage about the importance of blogging. Crystal gives two examples of blogging and describes the spontaneous writing style of a blog post, he writes:

“Here we have examples of a style of writing which has never been seen in public, printed form, outside of literature, and even there it would take an ingenious novelist indeed to capture its innocent spontaneity and unpredictable thematic direction. It is difficult to know how to describe the style, because it falls uneasily between standard and non-standard English. Both extracts illustrate writing which is largely orthodox with respect to the main dimensions that identify standardness — spelling, punctuation, and grammar, but they depart from the norms in various ways. (…) There are several feattures of informal written English which would be eliminated in a copy-edited version of such texts for publication. (…) Before the emergence of standard English, of course, such a style would not have attracted any notice at all. (…) It is a style which was once the norm, for all kinds of writing, but which gradually went out of public use once the standard language was institutionalized in manuals of grammar, punctuation and usage, beginning in the second half of the eighteenth century. It was finally eliminated when publishers developed copy-editing procedures to ensure that their newspapers, magazines, and books conformed to an in-house style. After that point it was virtually impossible to see anything in print which had not been through a standardizing process. (…) And this is why blogging is so significant. Only here do we have the opportunity to see written discourse of sometimes substantial lenght which have had no such editorial interference. It is written language in its most naked form.” p. 244/245

Crystal, David, 2006. Language and the Internet, second edition. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.

(This actually begs the question of how different bloggers deal with copy-editing individually. Some do copy-edit (especially the professional journalists), others write-as-if-they-speak and just leave the inconsistencies and errors. I’d say the level of editorial reflectiveness (is this a clear term?) differs enormously. Yet anyone writing will develop some sort of editorial relfectiveness in the long run. If only of the sort where it becomes the conscious decision to leave errors as they are.)

blogging,en,quotations,research,ubiscribe,writing | October 2, 2008 | 15:11 | Comments Off on Language and the Internet |

The medium is the massage: an inventory of effects

Booklet full of aphorisms. Oh-so quotable. I find myself wanting to use these quotes again and again. They are attractive. The attractiveness should not blind us. It will not, after so many years, I guess. The quotes are good to make a seminar or class attractive. Still. Together with the images.

So here, for future use. A digest.

“The medium or process of our time — electrical technology — is reshaping and restructuring patterns of social interdependence and every aspect of our personal life. It is forcing to reconsider and re-evaluate practically every thought, every action, and every institution formerly taken for granted. Everything is changing — you, your family, your neighborhood, your education, your job, your government, your relation to “the others”. And they are changing dramatically.” p. 8

“Electrical information devices for universal, tyrannical womb-to-tomb surveillance are causing a very serious dilemma between our claim to privacy and the community’s need to know. The older, traditional ideas of private, isolated thoughts and actions — the patterns of mechanistic technologies — are very seriously threatened by new methods of instantaneous electric information retrieval, by the electrically computerized dossier bank — that one big gossip column that is unforgiving, unforgetful and from which there is no redemption, no erasure of early “mistakes.”” p. 12

(This bit is followed by: “We have already reached a point where remedial control, born out of knowledge of media and their total effect on all of us, must be exerted.”)

“All media work us over completely. They are so pervasive in their personal, political, economic, aesthetic, psychological, moral, ethical, and social consequences that they leave no part of us untouched, unaffected, unaltered. The medium is the massage. Any understanding of social and cultural change is impossible without a knowledge of the way media work as environments.” p. 26

“The dominant organ of sensory and social orientation in pre-alphabet societies was the ear — “hearing was believing.” The phonetic alphabet forced the magic world of the ear to yield to the neutral world of the eye. man was given an eye for an ear.” p. 44

“Western history was shaped for some three thousand years by the introduction of the phonetic alephbet, a medium that depends solely on the eye for comprehension. The alphabet is a construct of fragmented bits and parts which have no semantic meaning in themselves, and which must be strung together in a line, bead-like, and in a prescribed order. Its use fostered and encouraged the habit of perceiving all environments in visual and spatial terms — particular in terms of a space and of a time that are uniform, c,o,n,t,i,n,u,o,u,s and c-o-n-n-e-c-t-e-d.” p. 44

“Printing, a ditto device (…) created the portable book, which men could read in privacy and in isolation from others. Man could now inspire — and conspire.” p. 50

“(T)he printed book added much to the new cult of individualism. The private, fixed point of view became possible and literacy conferred the power of detachement, non-involvement.” p. 50

“Ours is a brand-new world of allatonceness. “Time” has ceased, “space” has vanished. We now live in a global village . . . a simultaneous happening. We are back in acoustic space . We have begun again to structure the primordial feeling, the tribal emotions from which a few centuries of litercy divorced us.” p. 63

“Electric circuity profoundly involves men with one another. Information pours upon us, instantaneously and continuously. As soon as information is acquired, it is very rapidly replaced by still newer information. Our electrically-configured world has forced us to move from the habit of data classification to the mode of pattern recognition. We can no longer build serially, block-by-block, step-by-step, because instant communication insures that all factors of the environment and of experience co-exist in a state of active interplay.” p. 63

“Print technology created the public. Electric technology created the mass. The public consists of seperate individuals walking around with separate points of view. The new technology demands that we abandon the luxury of this posture, this fragmentary outlook.” p. 68/69

“The invention of printing did away with anonimity, fostering ideas of literary fame and the habt of considering intellectual effort as private property. Mechanical multiples of the same text created a public — a reading public. The rising consumer-orientied culture became concerned with labels od authenticity and protection against theft and piracy. The idea of copyright — “the exclusive right to reproduce, publish and sell the matter and form of a literary or artistic work” — was born.” p. 122

From: McLuhan, Marshall and Fiore, Quentin, The medium is the massage: an inventory of effects, Corte Madera, CA : Gingko Press, 2001 (1967).

en,quotations,research,ubiscribe | October 2, 2008 | 14:11 | Comments Off on The medium is the massage: an inventory of effects |

Lezen, man!

“Uit die vertaaloefeningen heb ik lering getrokken: dat een leeservaring begint met het overwinnen van irritatie.” p. 16

“Literaire ervaring kwam niet alleen tot stand door het inzetten van je verbeeldingswereld, je fantasie, je dagdromen, maar ook door het lichaam, door het voelen van je ademhalingsritme, als je een tekst hardop las; of tactiel, door de schaatsbewegingen van je hand als je een tekst overschreef.” p. 16

“Eigenlijk zijn de schrijvers van mijn voorkeur allemaal vertalers. Hun boeken behoren tot de categorie die Calvino nog niet heeft genoemd: de boeken die je leest omdat je ze zou willen vertalen, om ze te begrijpen in wat je niet begrijpt van je eigen taal.” p. 75

Uit: Anthony Mertens, Lezen, man! Essays en kritieken, De Bezige Bij, Amsterdam, 2006.

nl,quotations,reading matter | December 18, 2007 | 19:28 | Comments Off on Lezen, man! |

And Fielding, 1752

“According to Fielding the whole world of letters was becoming a ‘democracy, or rather a downright anarchy’; and there was no one to enforce the old laws, since, as he wrote in the Covent Garden Journal (1752, no. 23,1), even the ‘offices of criticism’ had been taken over by ‘a large body of irregulars’ who had been admitted ‘into the realm of criticism without knowing one word of the ancient laws’.”

Ian Watt, The Rise of the Novel, Studies in Defoe, Richardson and Fielding, The Hogarth Press, London, 1987 (1957) p. 58.

blogging,en,quotations,reading matter,research,ubiscribe,writing | July 13, 2007 | 12:47 | Comments Off on And Fielding, 1752 |

Steele on reading for pleasure, 1713

“…this unsettled way of reading … which naturally seduces us into as undetermined a manner of thinking. … That assemblage of words which is called a style becomes utterly annihilated. … the common defence of these people is , that they have no design in reading but for pleasure, which I think should rather arise from reflection and remembrance of what one had read, than from the transient satisfaction of what one does, and we should be pleased proportionately as we are profited.”

Richard Steele, in the Guardian, 1713, quoted in Ian Watt, The Rise of the Novel, Studies in Defoe, Richardson and Fielding, The Hogarth Press, London, 1987 (1957). p. 48.

en,quotations,reading matter,research,ubiscribe | July 13, 2007 | 12:40 | Comments Off on Steele on reading for pleasure, 1713 |

Mattermoney & picklearities

“We were yesterday three kiple chined, by the grease of God, in the holy bands of mattermoney.”

“As for madam Lashmiheygo, you nose her picklearities.”

No, this is not from FW, this is Smollett The Expedition of Humphry Clinker, Penguin Classics, p. 394-5.

en,quotations,reading matter | June 12, 2007 | 11:49 | Comments Off on Mattermoney & picklearities |

Lotman’s ‘Art as language’

I’ve been searching for this quote forever. Browsing through old syllabi I find it, somewhere in the text ‘Art as language’ by Yury Lotman – very heavily underlined annotated by myself, but not this sentence:

Art is the most economical, compact method for storing and transmitting information. But art also has other properties wholly worthy of the attention of cyberneticians and perhaps, in time, of design engineers.

[I guess, with design engineers Lotman refers to what we now know as ‘programmers’].

My annotation – dating from around 1988 – “ONZIN” (=nonsense).

Yury Lotman, The Structure of the Artistic Text, Ann Arbor, 1977, (1970), p. 23

en,quotations,research,software,writing | June 9, 2007 | 20:16 | Comments Off on Lotman’s ‘Art as language’ |
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