The power of the unprinted word

Text is everywhere. Which is to say that printed text is everywhere. The Gutenberg revolution has been so successful that handwritten script is now a species on the brink of extinction.

In the public sphere, the nonprinted word survives as graffiti and scribble. In private, it may grow to the stage of a draft, or a postcard, or, more rarely, a penned letter. The handwritten word is marginal, limping, on the retreat. Most pupils learn to draw typographical letters. The takeover is complete. Power belongs to the reproducible, infinitely disseminable type. There is strength in numbers of copies, and the printer is the great enabler. Inkjet and laser printers have never been more affordable, so everyone is a click away from becoming a Johann Gutenberg.

But the power of the unprinted word shouldn’t be underestimated. A word written from the heart on a piece of paper, clumsy and crippled as it may be, a word, just a word, is more powerful than a volume of mechanical signs. The ductus of the hand driving the pen, the gentleness or anger powering the meaning of a disorderly line, the hesitations, erasures, fractures, syncopations of the manual letter launch the heart and the mind on the blackened page, causing more pleasure, more pain, more offence, more delight, than the best printed line.

Writing proceeds from the heart, and the hand follows.

Every bit of handwritten text is a bit of the writter laserburned on the page, a pound of flesh for the giving.

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