Case MS FJ 035.182
Rousting the Florentine Body


Handwriting is the dance that marks a here and now. The act seems to pass through
the hand unaware of itself, unaware of its origins. The dance inscribes a
topology characterized by waves of vigor and fatigue, irregularity, attentiveness
and daydream: traces of the corporeality of a living hand. As we codify these
traces within a digital context, we activate the ability to atomize the surface
of the private and replicate it ad infinitum--spread it across the public--not only
for mass consumption but also as apparatus for production, for re-tracing. What
becomes then of human physicality? Does collective usage resurrect the original
writer as if handwriting across a ouija board?

Volgare is my attempt to lift a dormant hand across four centuries and make it
write, make the dead man constitute his private identity publicly...


The letter, drawn in ink, is not permanent; It is organic, kinetic. It bleeds and
fades. It seems the natural course for an historical body. The digital hand too
is not manifest permanence but it does forever house the potential for
permanence. It is writing-in-waiting. In this way, the digital hand is the
living hand, both embodying the mark-not-yet-made. Further, the digital medium
offers to a handwriting performance its eternal return, its playback button. Each
keystroke re)produces a frozen placard pointing to its originary act. It couples
a moment--a right here, right now--with the ability to replay that moment in
perfect similitude in all places. The living hand leaves the encumbrances of
corporeality. And the movements of one clerk in a Uffizi office in 1601 explode
outward in packaged bits of a ritual to be shared by all.

But if digital simulation strips an antique hand of inherent values of
authenticity and physical antiquity, where then lies its value? The digital font
acts as more than a placeholder for the handwriting specimen. Digitally
mimicking manuscript handwriting is a form of revisionist history. A number of
characters are collapsed ("composited" as the film credits tell us) into a single
compact entity for "dramatic effect." As with Bachelard's miniatures, each
character trembles with a compact essence. The digital incarnation of a
handwriting specimen brackets out certain characteristics of the original while
accentuating others. This is where I as font designer begin to seep into the
writing. I allow the ritual of handwriting to play out within a confined
latitude. By bracketing, articulating, reconstructing and emulating, I (acting in
many respects as apprentice to the writing master) pluck from the original
manuscript a tempo, a rhythm and contemporary orientation as a jazz musician
interprets a standard score. In Volgare, I have increased the "speed" of the
writing, and the sound of scratching in short strokes across rough paper has been
accentuated from the original manuscript.

Where then lies its value? Digital handwriting assuages our fear of loss (each
human mark is retraceable, repeatable), of death (a promise of eternal return),
while satisfying our cravings for the performance, the ritual--the idiosyncratic
dance--the marking and marks of the passage of time, and our participation in
their configuration. As we enter into a manipulation of the private sphere of
writing, we slip through voyeurism into another's hand as glove--invasive yet
anonymous.

Stepping into Volgare is all the more invasive because the original document is
an "official" list of the dead by family name and day of death and is penned by
an anonymous hand. The hand acts synecdochically as the official body, a public
body with public digits extending into every Quartiere. If we stop the public
proclamation by saying, "Who goes there? Who writes this? Who is the individual?",
the scratching halts. It is not the hand of "government" that pens this document
but the hand of X and this X, the one unnamed member of the list of the dead,
our ink-soaked survivor buried alive in the act of form-giving, this is
the individual whose position we assume within the glove.

What does it mean to place handwriting outside the act of its creation? Does this
liberate the mark? Or do we, it's readers, come upon it as a discarded shell?

The folio's words are not the neutral words of government but the living remains of X.


What is this desecration? To roust the Florentine body resting gently on the
pages of a locked codex in a library vault; to pull apart, to excise, manicure,
tether, to adhere whole appendages, some confusing and foreign (what is this W,
this X, this ®, © and $) and then to pulverize the whole into transportable bits.
To roust one who has probably never been further than 50 miles from home and
circulate him across the globe to speak in many tongues, in foreign slang, to
sound bite, to service professions and move goods and seduce and stand next to
strange others who do the same. What an adventure!

He has been rousted in the service of others, a global crier, and yet how
different is this from his position in the Uffizi? He has been refabricated at
the core, yet the surface retains the strong scent of his private/public body to
pluck the memory of a specific time and a specific place. Off on missions,
donning foreign accouterments, duplicated in perfect simulation ad infinitum, his
authentic self still rests undisturbed across pages of a locked codex in a
library vault.

Stephen Farrell, June 1996

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