by Walter Hamady, The Perishable Press Limited
A note from Jessica Spring: “Walter sent me the following never before published text, one of several Random Rambles transcribed by Anna Hamady, that gives some insight into what makes the artist tick (or what tickles the artist?)”
In 1988 I called a friend (you’ll wonder what kind of friend) and said, filled up with myself: “Geez, I’ve been printing books for half of my life!” to which he said: “So what.” It is 2000 and so I’ve been printing books for six-tenths of my life and so what. I supposed there are a lot of “what’s” and let’s see if any can be specifically located.
There are 125 books from The Perishable Press Limited, so what? What do they have in common? Well they all were made by hand; they were all believed in; they all could be done better if done over; they all are flawed; they all taught me many things. They are all my friends who introduced me to other friends yet they wait for me with fierce and dedicated loyalty.
There are many reasons for making a book and probably the best one, as the only reason for making Art, is because you can’t stop. Because you can’t stop ought to be in extra bold caps tattooed on the forehead backwards so that every time you see your mug in the mirror you will remember why in the hell you are doing it! A few ancillary reasons, reasons you can explain to the IRS or a psychiatrist ready to put you away, might be: because the literature, the writing turns you on so damn bad you just HAVE to publish it; because the text flashes big lovely images on your screen that cry to be illustrated; because the various elements configurate a marvelous totality of concept applicable to the FORM; because if published, the book would encourage the author to continue; because you can make a real nifty surprise for the author if you do it secretly. But mostly I make books because I can’t stop.
Making books is a wonderful way to read. Starting with hands-on making of paper; setting type letter by space by letter, line by line, stanza by paragraph, page by book has given valuable insight into language and reading. Reading this slow way, with the hands, reveals patterns and cross-connections sometimes unknown even to the author. Somewhere I saw a diagram of the nerve endings of the human body and their connection to the brain. If you re-diagrammed our bodies on this basis our hands would be as big as our abdomens. This means that a lot more information goes into our heads through touching than seeing, smelling, hearing. Also, using our hands, touching, creating things is, as a former colleague said, a “low-yield out of body experience” but I think it is a high-yield. And further, a litmus test to know if you are “doing it right” is: if you disappear to yourself whilst in the midst of making your art. You need to get out of your own way and just work. It is as close to heaven as I can get and still tell about it.
Another so what is: because books are recognizable, peaceful objects in society at large. Most people know what they are so the expectation is easy to penetrate with subversion. That is, people easily accept the book as it is handed to them. People are suspicious when you want to show them your etchings. So as said before, the book is the Trojan Horse of Art. Art’s Trojan Horse makes me think of Bobby Byrd’s wonderful poem about Art in America, about a guy named Art, maybe in El Paso.
Anyway, you can get into more people’s consciousness through the book, the form of the Trojan book.
Again, people take the book with their Hands, they touch it, they turn the pages they interact with kinetic sculpture. While the tactile reports are tingling up the ganglia simultaneously the nose is whiffing, the ears are hearing the rattle snap and pop of the paper, the eyeballs are rolling in all sorts of bites of type into the visually tactile paper and reporting words clearly there, repeat, THERE in the fibers of the page. So it is as easy as shooting fish in a barrel to get what you want into that poor unsuspecting head!
Another so what is making a book properly, if the INTENT is to communicate the written word, it is to extend the writer’s text to the fullest realization. One might argue that the text IS the writer’s fullest realization but I think not always. The text must be READ by someone elseâ€”to what strangers what welcomeâ€”and, as the dentist can do a better job repairing your tooth so can a typographer craft the readability of the text better than the author.
Another so what is standing in with a wonderful and rich tradition. To touch the type, assemble it, space it invisibly (typographers need a special kind of ego for their fine work if successful is like retouching a photographâ€”if you can see the work it fails.) Print it, distribute it back into the job case in a rhythmic way, is having hands on with all the great printers and literate bookmakers since the beginning. Like the poet just touching her fingers to the keys of the piano gets a flood of imagery, a cacophony of every composer who ever wrote for the keyboard. It is being part of a great and powerful team of championship players so it is necessary to know who are in the Hall of Fame and why they are there and remember who opened the window through which you can seeâ€”the accumulation of permissions.
It is humbling to think that if I could meet Nicholas Jensen or Aldus Manutiusâ€”or any of the printers whom I admire with all my heartâ€”we would have one hell of a lot in common and a lot to talk about. Does this make any sense?
I just thought of another so whatâ€”because, dammit, it IS fun! It FEELS good. It is like Thelonious Monk felt when jamming those keys. It is like life, on a fine line between total absurdity and absolute profundityâ€”choose your own examples.
Another what in the so what is that yes, it could be considered hard work to make a book by hand or anything else by hand. And it is, in a way, but then there are numerous rewards, e.g. you can see piles of things stacking up. After a day in the paper mill your back should ache but it is assuaged by looking at a pile of a hundred lovely inviting sheets of malleable wealth! You can see directly what you have done, you have exchanged your time and body for a pile of product that is meaningful, worthwhile, un-gettable any other way and, it has worth both in dollars and beyond money. As the paper is editioned in the press, it is piled & unpiled & piled again. As the sheets become folios and again as folios become signatures and again as signatures become the text block and again as they come back apart to have sewing holes punched and again as they are sewn together and again as they are forwarded and again as they are stacked as finished copies head to toe, they are piled. They, these steps, are layers, they are the geological cross-sections of the earth and planet of our intellect. It is making cake, eating cake and having the cake too. So what. There are 125 titles to date, so what? This represents sixty-one authors (thirty-eight are â€˜writers whose work receives serious consideration’ so what?) all of whom have taught me lessons about contemporary writing as well as given me direction as to other writers that they think worth serious consideration.
Yet another of the what’s in the so what is having to do with my own writing, aside from essay and quasi-technicalâ€”see: Papermaking by Hand, Being a Book of Qualified Suspicions #102/1982 has evolved into a lexical tennis match. The reciprocation is between actual visual images and analytical free association. This interactive relationship finds source and is often conditioned by the stuff itself, that is, the process. That means: with my arthritic fingers I scribble/scrawl the works as they squeeze out the point wetly onto the paper then I get onto this infernal old portable typewriter & with one finger and one thumb I bang out the first translation and because I can then read it, I can make changes and improvements. Next, on to the typecase with the job stick using the same opposable thumb and adding a thumb to the other hand’s finger out come the letters one at a time, space by space, etc. and it is slow enough to actually think about what the hell ever it was trying to be said and sometimes patterns and other relationships appear not known even to the author and those can be seized and added to the stew. And then proofing and printing sometimes suggests even further adjustments. So then setting type and printing can help writing. Word processors “help” writing in a fake way by using someone else’s intelligence but typesetting helps in a real way because it extends your own intelligence.
Some more what’s in so:
How we use time is how we use our lifeâ€”who said: “you are what you love”? If we can spend time doing the things we love then we are very very fortunate indeed. To do something well once might be beginner’s luck. To do something over and over for a long time doesn’t necessarily mean anything. To do something repeatedly and Grow and Show is good. As long as the growth is steady then perhaps the longer the better. For me, the measure of a worth in/of a performance can only be applied to the whole life given, only when death seals it can an assessment begin. Life can only be lived forward but only understood by going backwards. So to measure five years, a decade, a quarter century or a half is still a partial judgment.
What! Art is Sex! Books are the issue of sex, are children of our minds; our children are the bridges to the future, OUR future forever. Name your most favorite purveyor of Wisdom from the past? Boccaccio, Pindar, LiPo? How are they here still copulating in the depths of your brains? By the bridges of books recycling our generic humanity made by the hands, heart and head before memory. So what.