Tuesday, July 6, 2010

ah ah ah ah ah (ah)

Fiona’s description of Yma’s discovery of the hand, and hand-writing, recalled to me a single edition published by Allen Ginsberg in 1975 called The Poet’s Hand Book. It is comprised of 24 Beat hands traced and illuminated: Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Anne Waldman, Gerald Malanga, Bill Berkson, Jim Carroll, and others. I’ve only been able to find this one picture from the book, Ginsberg’s own with characteristic mantras scrawled on his fingernails. (The book goes for $6500 at Biblio.com, if anyone is curious/wealthy enough to see more of it.) I particularly love the floating “ah” that hovers between the thumb and the forefinger. To me it signals something yet to be grasped. I’m also fond of this odd little sentence from the seller’s description: “Lefties win on paper 14 2 10 but only on paper.”

The place of the hand has often been a contentious one in the history of printing, but the two are more intertwined than is commonly thought. Manuscripts, as Peter Stallybrass has noted, were a concept largely invented by printing, as the handwritten text was commonly defined against mechanical typesetting after the advent of the printing press. But print and writing mixed as early as the early modern production of indulgences, which, to save time (as a great number of indulgences were being meted out, especially by the time of the Reformation), left blank spaces for names and debts to be filled in. Like later fill-in-the-blanks like tax forms, checkbooks, contracts, and Mad Libs, these types of documents weren’t considered complete until the hand had made its mark in the form of an autograph. This was the writing of the self, through the hand, through touch, and moreover through our primary organ of touch.

Roman Catholic indulgence, 1521

Perhaps the most significant thing that we can write is our own names. It is probably the most common thing that we write by hand in the form of credit card slips or, if we are marginally famous, the scribblings on cocktail napkins (or poetry broadsides, as we are more accustomed to here at the press). But this returns us to the idea of the hand, of the fingerprint being some unique, signature marker of ourselves, of our actual bodies, which Ginsberg understood with The Poet’s Hand Book, and which Yma realized instinctually with her word-and-hand play. I am reminded that the French word for “now,” maintenant, literally means “hand-holding,” which shows how the time of any experience and its communication is intrinsically connected to the physical sensation of holding pen to paper. In writing we literally inscribe a part of ourselves onto a page. And like the indulgences of the age of incunabula, the printed section marks a time of the past, while the blank spaces open to unknown futures, dates and signatures, or prayers in Ginsberg's case, the yawning "ahs" just out of reach.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Gracias intiresnuyu iformatsiyu