Jun 23, 2014

Invisible Letters and the Birth of Italics

Like a spy, always looking for a secret message, or like the kabbalist who is scanning the written for what is un-said, the historians of the book have developed a pretty nice little toolbox to read what was printed, without reading the words of the author ("the author"). The ways of the book trade, the economies of the publishing enterprise, the ruses of typography, the direction of the fibers in the paper, the clues left behind by the hammer, the design of the binding, the presence of faint but regular creases in the page, the precise movement of the thread that makes up the binding, the entitlement and authorisation of books, their librarisation, all these externalities have contributed to a bright rainbow of stories about (the) book which keep a growing gaggle of book-spies pretty busy.

Randall McLeod, also known as Erin Dale (Mrs Auga), Ana Mary Armygram, Random Cloud, Randal Mc Leod, Orlando F. Booke, Claudia Nimbus, Random Clod, etc, is perhaps the most important practitioner of the art of reading the early book as a made object, and telling stories about how exactly they were produced. In many ways the book presents as a finished and ideal object. McLeod's readings destroy this imposition, and show us how it was made in the first place.

Randall McLeod

The inventor of the McLeod Portable Collator, a machine which allows to read two copies of the same book at the same time and highlighting minute differences between copies, will be talking about the invention of the Italic typeface in 1501 Venice when Aldo Manutius printed the very first book in this compact type, a face which still today is a cultural marker of the highest order. We know that the early value of the new typeface was that it appeared less bookish than the type in use before Aldus. What will the faint traces of uninked type which our book-spy found hidded in plain sight, what will they tell us about the actual process of giving birth to a new typeface? Join the man with many names on Friday 27 June 2014, Seminar Room 24, Faculty of English, West Road, Cambridge at 12.30 and find out.