Monday, February 6, 2012

Barthes on pens

Roland Barthes on writing as ritual:

Take the gesture, the action of writing. I would say, for example, that I have an almost obsessive relation to writing instruments. I often switch from one pen to another just for the pleasure of it. I try out new ones. I have far too many pens — I don’t know what to do with all of them! And yet, as soon as I see a new one, I start craving it. I cannot keep myself from buying them.

When felt-tipped pens first appeared in the stores, I bought a lot of them. (The fact that they were originally from Japan was not, I admit, displeasing to me.) Since then I’ve gotten tired of them, because the point flattens out too quickly. I’ve also used pen nibs — not the “Sergeant-Major,” which is too dry, but softer nibs, like the “J.” In short, I’ve tried everything . . . except Bics, with which I feel absolutely no affinity. I would even say, a bit nastily, that there is a “Bic style,” which is really just for churning out copy, writing that merely transcribes thought.

In the end, I always return to fine fountain pens. The essential thing is that they can produce that soft, smooth writing I absolutely require.

“An Almost Obsessive Relation to Writing Instruments.” From a 1973 interview with Jean-Louis de Rambures. In Barthes’s The Grain of the Voice: Interviews, 1962–1980, translated by Linda Coverdale (New York: Hill and Wang, 1985).
Barthes writes about felt-tipped pens in the essay “Stationery Store”:
The felt-tipped pen, of Japanese origin, has taken up where the brush leaves off: this stylo is not an improvement of the point, itself a product of the pen (of steel or of cartilage); its immediate ancestry is that of the ideogram.

Empire of Signs, translated by Richard Howard (New York: Hill and Wang, 1982).
There are many photographs of Barthes with a cigarette in hand, but none that I can find in which he holds a pen. The New Yorker though has some samples of his handwriting.

Related posts
Five pens (reveries)
R. Crumb’s supplies (steel nibs, Pelikan ink, Strathmore paper)
Nabokov’s supplies (pencils, index cards)
Proust, Barthes, involuntary memory
Proust’s supplies (a Sergeant-Major fan)

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