Writing Technologies

[Printable version]

Declaration of Ink Dependence

Neil Badmington

Would you like to know how I wrote these words? I have an inkling that you are not remotely interested, but I am going to tell you anyway. First, from my collection of inks, I carefully selected a tint called Noodler’s Nightshade. It is the colour of the skin of a ripe aubergine. Then, on Clairefontaine paper, I slowly wrote and rewrote the text using a Stipula I Castoni fountain pen fitted with a 1.1mm italic nib. Only when I was entirely happy with what I had produced did I sit at my iMac and transfer each word to Word.

Are you still reading, or have I driven you away? Has my ‘inkipit’ merely convinced you that I am a bourgeois aesthete with a roving and nostalgic eye for unnecessary commodities? Were you expecting a celebration of cutting-edge writing technologies? (‘But you’re supposed to be a posthumanist’, a friend once remarked when I inkled my writing habits in an unguarded moment.) Why, above all, should an account of rituals of inscription matter?

The work of Roland Barthes incubates an answer to that final question. In September 1973, Jean-Louis de Rambures opened an interview with Barthes in a manner that could easily have led the discussion into a well of trivia: ‘Do you have a method of working?’ 1 Barthes, however, immediately underscored and pursued the politics of such a question, noting that ‘there is a kind of censorship which considers this topic taboo, under the pretext that it would be futile for a writer or an intellectual to talk about his writing, his daily schedule, or his desk’. 2 And then, with a little encouragement, came an inky-fingered confession:

I have an almost obsessive relation to writing instruments. I often switch from one pen to another just for the pleasure of it. I try out new ones – I have far too many pens – I don’t know what to do with all of them. And yet, as soon as I see a new one, I start craving it. I cannot keep myself from buying them.

When felt-tipped pens first appeared in the stores, I bought a lot of them. (The fact that they were originally from Japan was not, I admit, displeasing to me.) Since then I’ve gotten tired of them, because the point flattens out too quickly. I’ve also used pen nibs – not the ‘Sergeant-Major’, which is too dry, but softer nibs, like the ‘J’. In short, I’ve tried everything … except Bics, with which I feel absolutely no affinity. I would even say, a bit nastily, that there is a ‘Bic style’, which is really just for churning out copy, writing that merely transcribes thoughts.

In the end, I always return to fine fountain pens. The essential thing is that they can produce that soft, smooth writing I absolutely require. 3

Next page

1. Roland Barthes, ‘An Almost Obsessive Relation to Writing Instruments’, in The Grain of the Voice: Interviews 1962-1980, trans. by Linda Coverdale (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991), p. 177.

2. Barthes, 'An Almost Obsessive Relation', p. 177.

3. Barthes, 'An Almost Obsessive Relation', p. 178.