Protean qualities

The pen writes about tranformations, but never about those of the pen itself.

In nova fert animus, mutatas dicere formas, my spirit compels me to tell of forms changed into new bodies, sings the Roman poet Ovid in the opening of his hugely influential Metamorphoses. Tranformations of the human and divine body. But where are the transformations of the body of text?

In the process of writing, thoughts change, words change, meaning changes. The only source of grounding is writing itself. Putting things down provides grounding. The technology of writing has always sought more grounding, more ways of making permanent, of settling down. In an oral environment, the memory alone supplies the grounding base, but that is a high-risk investment that culture often struggles to capitalise on.

Neverthless, writing also changes. Scripts evolve, give rise to new forms, new twists and turns, almost literally so, and then disappear. Six hundred years ago, so-called Gothic scripts were the height of writing. Today, they are markers, typographical eccentricities. On the other hand, Caroline letter forms, the script which evolved out of the chanceries of Charlemagne and his descendants, gave us the letters we use today, but they also disappeared. Scripta manent, the things written remain, as the dictum goes, but the script itself volat, it flies away, leaving a cultural contrail behind.

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