20 April 2012

Spacing in text

While finding out whether Virginia Woolf actually had bookbinding skills (she did), I came across an article that tells of her development as a typesetter (and how this influenced her writing), in which this passage about the use of space seemed worth flagging up:

" Identifying space as verbal art is a technique used by Woolf; in novels like Jacob’s Room or The Waves, Woolf was in constant dialogue with the printer, ensuring that the spaces between scenes were of a precise thickness. The absence of words, or the space in between scenes, becomes another source of meaning; space becomes verbal art in the same way in which Woolf practiced a linguistic art."

The absence of words as a source of meaning .... "nothing is something". The words are a thing, and the space they occupy - or leave empty - is also to be "read" as a thing.

More than meets the eye.

Again, one thing leads to another, and in trying to find a picture to break up the run of words, I came across this:
Spacing imposed by the publishers of an e-book (boxes added). Segue to an opportunity for a rant on stupid hyphenation, but I'll spare you that. Nonetheless, it's a reminder of why carefully-printed (or re-printed) books are SO much more pleasant to read than the "flexible" electronic format - and gives me a chance to quote another bit from that original article about the Hogarth Press -

" Woolf’s use of spacing, variant punctuation, and emphasis on words as single, constitutive units, exposes the printed rectangle of text on the page as a form of meaning, one as important as the narrative itself. For example, Woolf breaks up the shapes of words in order to replicate spoken language—how stress is placed on single syllables. When Archer calls Jacob, he shouts: “Ja—cob! Ja—cob!” and when Mrs. Flanders summons the two boys, she calls, “Ar—cher! Ja—cob!” Woolf’s separation of their names in this manner renders it difficult for the reader to avoid the physical shape of words. Yet Woolf exposes the paginal skeleton even further: two lines of space separate these initial shouts, secluding these broken syllables from the rest of the textual body. Indeed, throughout Jacob’s Room, Woolf experiments with spacing; four lines of white space separate some paragraphs, while other paragraph separations are thinner. Woolf, therefore, in structuring the book according to the spaces between scenes, not only considers the visual composition of the page but also how the absence of words—as indicated with blank space—becomes another origin of meaning. "

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