Tuesday, March 03, 2009
A sober photographic moment I think you'll agree hmm?
For not very complex reasons, which I'm not going to share with you out of sheer wilful perversity, I spent a couple of hours last night setting metal type.
Setting type is one of those old and beautiful things, like bespoke tailoring, that no one in this country will know how to do in three years time. Partly because British teenagers all want to be 50 Cent (who, I was pleased to hear, is about to self-destruct) and partly because it's a totally outdated technology and I may as well be bemoaning the fact that they're not set to work making clay finger pots.
One side-effect of modern "labour saving technology" anticipated by Orwell in The Road to Wigan Pier was that anything that took a decently long time would be consigned to the Craft Movement. Once you can do something quickly, doing it slowly is merely gratuitous. This irked him because a superabundance of time was something that he associated with the upper classes - the natural resentment of a bourgeois Etonian - so anything that took longer than it needed to had this etiolated, moneyed taint.
Obviously, my spending an evening setting a paragraph of type and finding it to be a meditative experience, that has something to do with the human activity of the transmission of ideas (some people might even say, the essential human activity), is nothing like being forced into a typesetting apprenticeship at 14 and then spending the next 55 years doing it until you go blind and mad from staring at 8 point Baskeville backwards and upside-down for 10 hours a day, and are put into the workhouse for a few more years of backwards upside-down muttering punctuated by institutional abuse then death. But I think I'm still entitled to believe that it's a more dignified form of work than becoming even a fairly high-ranking JD Sports staff member - despite the access that such a position might give you to some of their limited edition Reebok Classics.
Copywriters have another reason to bewail the decline of metal type, which is that it made it very, very hard for a client to change your headline once it had been signed off. Permanence has an almost subconscious effect on one's approach to any creative task. I would find it physically impossible to leave as many adverbs in a piece of writing for printed media as would writing for you suckers on this blog. I think you can get to something deep about the effect of technology on craft, fairly quickly, if you can be bothered to chase that one down.
I'm afraid I can't as I have cheese to eat.
Of course, what Orwell naively failed to anticipate (died in 1949 you say? pah! idiot!), was the total cooption of all forms of labour-saving technology by the forces of capital in order to increase the rate of labour.
I have been devising a kind of terrorist activity to counter this trend. Stay tuned for that.