29 November 2012

On copying

"The power of a text is different when it is read from when it is copied out. Only the copied text thus commands the soul of him who is occupied with it, whereas the mere reader never discovers the new aspects of his inner self that are opened by the text, that road cut through the interior jungle forever closing behind it: because the reader follows the movement of his mind in the free flight of day-dreaming, whereas the copier submits it to command." - Walter Benjamin

Is this like calligraphy, someone asked. Not really - instead of attention to the shapes and linkage of letters, making them into words, the attention of the copyist is on the text and the writer's construction of the text, in the slow speed of the copying (rather than the fast speed of the reading). It's about discovering what the writer meant, rather than what the reader makes of it.

Another question was, What does the copyist do - is it just plain writing? I think there are (at least) three sorts of copyists (apart from calligraphers, who are enhancing the text by the visual qualities of the lettering).
1. scribes, making a copy of a text for archiving or dissemination, in the absence of other technology
2. samizdat copyists, making a copy for dissemination, in secret
3. compilers of "commonplace books", collecting various texts that interest them in a notebook
The copying might be in plain handwriting (no.3), in an approved style of handwriting (no.1), or even with a typewriter and carbon paper (no.2) - though I feel that with the typewriter, the power of the text is different from handwriting.

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