Thursday, 9 February 2012

Between the Lines: Reading the Italic Font

Hannah Schürholz submitted a poem to Islet that caught my editorial eye- though I was initially, unsure/unconvinced about the use of italics in her work. I responded to her submission by asking about these italics. She wrote an erudite and impassioned email in response, poetically endorsing and explaining the use of the italic font. She convinced me, changed my mind and I am glad to publish both her poem and her accompanying essay on Islet. You can read the essay below and her poem 'Between the Lines' here.

Between the Lines: Reading the Italic Font

Hannah Schürholz

Umberto Eco, in his beautifully evocative terms states that contemporary art “sets out to stimulate the private world of the addressee so that he can draw from the inside himself some deeper response that mirrors the subtler resonances underlying the text” (1989, 9). It is the infinity of the text that resides in the many constituents of our writing. The text is manifest in its inter-, hyper-, meta-, and contextual formations, always changing and developing, conversing with and establishing other stories in the process of reception, interpretation and association. I have always been infatuated with the possibilities a text offers – a fabulous pool of ideas that we, as writers and readers, continuously delve into, re-creating and responding to worlds that unfold behind the tiniest fragments – rainbow-coloured pebbles of the imagination. We all bring our own stories and memories to a text that we read, turning the words into a piece of ourselves. We become painters of our own landscape, inner and outer, exposing and being exposed in delicate acts of wording, phrasing, highlighting, structuring, eclipsing feelings that tell without imposition, incite without obligation and seduce without domination. Often it is not a script itself that stirs our creativity and triggers our memory but certain words, phrases, the format or its punctuation. Every creative text is re-written through the reading process and thus receives its idiosyncratic value for the reader as writer and the writer as reader.

What technique works better to enhance and literally embody this possibility than what we actually see on the page: the form of the letters and the contrast of the ink on the page. I remember the fun I had as a girl in perfecting my handwriting and playing with the spaces on the page, carefully balancing letters and sentences in spontaneous compositions of bright colours, different styles and sizes of individual words and phrases. And even now, having grown out of that phase and entered the widely uninspiring world of computerisation, I still find immense pleasure in playing with the purely visual and combining the materiality of the text with its transcending qualities. It is here where the written and the oral, matter and metaphor, illusion and reality meet and blur that the text is most sensitive to conversations that exceed what is merely obvious. The digital font we use today is a powerful device, deriving from callographic artistry – a prominent ancient artform in both Eastern and Western cultures. The cursive or italic font dates as far back as the fifteenth century. It links the word to the voice and thus combines the world of print with the old tradition of orality. Intonation becomes central to the story and the voice holds its power. It makes us aware that there is more to be discovered, more than one meaning to be considered and negotiated. And to me, it is italics that best signify the vocal complexity and subversion inherent to written intonation, the written voice that directs us beyond itself and reveals its own death in the birth of others.

What the italicised words in my poem Between the Lines signify is the poly-vocality inherent to the written word, which is not static but shifts and floats, offering new stories every time it is looked upon. The highlighted words allude to the many counter stories that may lie hidden behind the official writing propagated to the world – stories of suffering, exploitation, abuse and deceit that are not given the space for open articulation. The words in italics function as stimuli and suggest that we as readers have the imaginative power to look behind the façade of dominant systems and set these other voices free. It is both a personal and a political act of liberation, literally and metaphorically underlining an awareness that is necessary: to hear the whispers of the text and follow them, seeing through the textual face and reading the evocations rooted beneath. From a purely aesthetic point of view, I wanted to introduce a bit of a visual rhythm to the lines and allude to the stories inherent to what is perceived as “different” in cultural contexts but what might not be so different after all. By fixing the reader’s eyes on the italicised words in the poem, I wish to encourage them to see the fluidity of this act of direction and start deconstructing the poem by finding different combinations themselves, hence opening up the poem and maybe retrieving their own voice in its ambiguities.
Eco, Umberto. The Open Work. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989.

Hannah Schürholz is completing her PhD in Australian Literature at La Trobe University, Melbourne.

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