More than words

The art of handwriting creates a bond between writer and reader.
The choice of writing instrument is part of the journey.

Published in Private Edition 39

My mother was left-handed and, self-conscious about her slanted scrawl, used to struggle to express herself on paper. To encourage me to craft my script, she bought me a fountain pen when I was in primary school and urged me to learn the art of calligraphy – something similar to what South African lawyer and linguist Deryck Uys taught himself in 1955 to improve his own illegible handwriting.
Although Uys was classified legally blind at the time I interviewed him in 2010, when he was 83, I still have a perfectly legible nine-page handwritten letter from him prompted by a discussion about Montblanc writing instruments.

Uys had just completed the translation into Afrikaans of Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets using a magnifying glass that enabled him to see three letters at a time. He did it with passion, pride and precision, his choice of words as measured as his thoughts.

Handwriting, he explained, can be considered from two aspects: the writer and the reader. As far as the writer is concerned, it involves emotional processes and thought. ‘The Japanese write with a paintbrush and find the process therapeutic. It is art, and not a mechanical chore,’ wrote Uys. ‘In the same way, I find writing italic therapeutic. Italic is also far less fatiguing.’

Yet the interesting part comes with thought processes, he said. ‘One of the most senior advocates in South Africa told me that his thoughts developed with the act of writing. I find the same. ‘As regards the recipient of the writing, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

Do you feel in closer touch with me than if this appeared on your normal email?’ he asked. The answer is obvious.

OF AUTHORS AND PENSPE-39-More-than-words2
Stephen King wrote Dreamcatcher with a fountain pen, mentioning in his author’s note that to ‘write the first draft of such a long book by hand put me in touch with the language as I haven’t been in years.

I even wrote one night (during a power outage) by candlelight. One rarely finds such opportunities in the 21st century, and they are to be savoured.’

Award-winning novelist Richard Mason wrote History of a Pleasure Seeker by hand too. After The Lighted Rooms, the first in his collection of stories that focus on South Africa, Mason decided to free up his creative process and write only when he felt like it.’ He wrote History of a Pleasure Seeker the fastest out of any of his books, albeit with a ballpoint pen, in a specially commissioned leather-bound notebook, because he is ‘very against Microsoft Word as a tool for creative writing’.

He no doubt would have enjoyed comparing notes with Uys, who said one of the ‘scariest’ words he ever learnt from his sculpture teacher, who used to work in the dairy industry, was ‘homogenisation’. ‘In my youth, milk was delivered in bottles and the cream rose to the top. Now it is all the same. Are we not all being homogenised today?’

This links to the question of how the art of handwriting is being affected by the digital age. It is said that those born after 1979 have no other frame of reference than the electronic world (interestingly, Mason was born in 1978). Pioneers such as Montblanc remain resolute in their pursuit of innovation, constantly pushing boundaries in the expression of fine craftsmanship that has been their trademark for more than a century. And it’s that appreciation for craftsmanship and artistry that forms a common bond among collectors worldwide.

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