Register Tuesday | June 25 | 2019

Moveable Types

To tell the truth is to be a printing press with non-moveable type

 Gutenberg ever thought to carve the alphabet into wooden blocks, he trained in gem cutting. Perhaps it was his lapidary’s eye, looking into cut and polished precious stones to discover inverted pictures of reality, that caused him to imagine the possibilities of mirror images. He carved the reflections of letters and words into wooden blocks and then later, as his father had trained him in metalwork, cast them into metal. In the mid-fifteenth century, he would invent a printing press that utilized moveable type, a system that allowed one to use and then reuse a finite number of text blocks, thus permitting an infinite arrangement of letters. When the first arrangement of blocks was inked and pressed into paper, it would change forever how we lie.


To tell the truth is to be a printing press with non-moveable type; it means to produce thousands of replications of the same message: omissions and errors are the fault of the nature of the machinery, not one’s own. To admit the truth means to no longer own one’s faults, but rather to hand them out in pamphlet form.


Warning sign that things will end in a way that will leave you forever in a state of missing: you begin by discussing books. Inevitably, as the talk of books demands, you will say, “Oh, really, you haven’t read such and such?” and “Oh, you must!” and “I’ll lend you my copy.” As one book will lead to another, and as one author suggests yet another author, you find yourself in bed again, pressed inside new covers.


Sometimes when I say something, I begin remembering that someone else has said it before, but maybe in a different arrangement of words; when I say something in a particular manner, I begin remembering that someone said something in the same way before—only with me the subject changes. So too, whenever I kiss someone for the first time, I begin remembering someone else who has kissed me before, but in a slightly different way; then it happens that the only thing that stays is the pressing of lips; someone else becomes someone else, all kissing in a way that makes me liken saliva to ink and this makes me think that there is no longer any need for speech, everything already having been said before. I think, “I am thinking a thought in the manner of a certain author”; I begin to think of ways to describe an orange fish by emulating the style of this author when I remember that my subject is love; I begin to say, “I love you,” but begin instead to talk about an orange fish.


The invention of moveable type can be traced as far back as 1041 in China. Credited to Bi Sheng, who fashioned his blocks of type out of clay, this press would have to manipulate over five thousand Chinese characters. Given this range of possibility, one must chose carefully when to replace “bat” with “willow leaf,” when to say “open” instead of “downstream” or when to await “dusk” or “darkening trees.” If the bedroom can be likened to a metatextual land of signs and symbols, then I should hope to never rely solely on only twenty-six characters with which to move and manipulate, meaning: I only desire one lover, yet I also desire to have infinite possibilities with this lover. Bodies arrange themselves next to one another as if on a printing block, awaiting the turn of the screw, the downward force of a lever to cause the meeting of ink and paper. In the act of lovemaking, two bodies link to form infinite ideograms and phonetic possibilities that are invented only then and never set into type, never committed to memory.


With replication made easy, one loses the need to commit oneself to memory. The lover with many loves has no need to commit, to treasure over and over again one pinup girl among others: it is as easy as visiting one’s bookshelf, entering one’s library, purchasing titles from one’s bookseller, borrowing a best friend’s mistress. With so many possible loves and so little time, one begins to assure one’s self that these possible loves exist somewhere, will come sometime into one’s life. There is little panic therefore concerning beginnings; there exists much distress over completions. It is easy to begin an affair; it is difficult to tell your lover, “I no longer wish to read you.” Frank O’Hara wrote, “It is easy to be beautiful; it is difficult to appear so. I admire you, beloved, for the trap you’ve set. It’s like the final chapter no one reads because the plot is over.”


In reading and in lovemaking, only two possibilities: the first time and remembering.


The professor envies his students one thing: that this is their first reading of Tristram Shandy. The professor admits then to pitying himself and his students one thing: that the book is not being read in its original: meaning, the black, blank and marbled pages are all reproductions of the idea of the page, but never the actual page its significance begs it to be: meaning, Tristram Shandy no longer exists, and the only way to prolong its life was to transfer its significance into a simulacrum’s life. The whore envies the virgin one thing: that she has yet to come into the rite of her first opening, unveiling; the whore admits then to pitying herself and her lovers one thing: that the book is not being read in its original: meaning, it would be lovely to live serially, to await patiently the next chapter instead of acquiring a book completely bounded, its ending already fully dressed and departing before the completion of the love act.

The advent of moveable type meant that the world would slowly become more and more forgiving. If words are not etched and set to be changed nevermore, then mistakes, if discovered, are easily corrected. When someone leaves me, too early, I console myself: the cosmos opened a leaflet not meant for me and departure is the manner in which the cosmos revises. Omissions are often the act of a hand higher than ours; seals set in wax signify that the sender can be tracked; moreover, seals ensure that the enclosed documents or correspondence are authentic. To ensure that one remains authentic in the act: never reveal one’s signet, never stamp the proof of “I love you.” Omit words that find their tongues touching in the darkest and dampest of places; blame it on an oblivious typesetter. The first products of the Gutenberg press were penance pamphlets. Mass reproduction, coupled with the ability to change, produces forgiveness in massive amounts.


In reading and in lovemaking, the memory fails, gives way to self-made omissions. In rereading a book, I have a vague sense of feeling both at home and homesick. What I remember afterward, I approach again joyfully and, like looking at snapshots of a past trip, nostalgically relive what I lived so wondrously before. What then of all the plot in between that I have honestly forgotten? I feel a nausea of panic that I will die soon: I think of: (a) all the books I have yet to read; (b) all the books I have read and don’t remember clearly or at all; (c) all the books I hope to write; (d) all the books of which I have no knowledge; and (e) the books that may be trying to find me. I think too of how love works, as I have loved many books whose characters, places, plots, long scenes of ponderings I can’t recall, which means, shamefully, that I must be a bad lover. A nausea of panic that I will die soon and the one I love will not remember anything about me other than a few trifling details, such as my name or the memory of a gesture, and that is how I will exist: a text with endless omissions.


In an ideal world, we would be able to furnish our lovers, years and years after seeing them last, with an erratum. Although we really mean whatever it is we mean when we say what we say, we realize often, after the fact, that perhaps what we really meant was something else entirely or perhaps we should have said what we said in a slightly different way: perhaps our fates are tied to how we punctuate. My errata: Where I left you with a semicolon, I meant period; instead of slay, please read stay. Passages and passages inadvertently omitted will now read, making possible the binding of two mirror-image yet truthful texts: the text of what is and what should have been.