Paul C Gutjahr and Megan L Benton, in their article “Reading the Invisible” suggest that all print is ‘marked’ by its topography and that typeface, as one of the material forms of the book, is inextricably linked to the meaning of a text. As a technology the printing machine banished the medieval handwriting of the scribe to the archives, but in doing so, allowed printed typeface to become the still distinctive hand of particular printers, places and politics.
Was the coming of print a revolution or the natural progression of power and influence over the masses? As the book moved from the Scriptoria to learned academics and eventually into the hands of the general public, opportunities were seized by the powerful and influential to take the book and use it for their own ends. Henry VIII is the best example of this, when in he suppresses Tyndale’s English bible, only to re-instate it years later to suit his newly reformed Protestant religion.
We are often unaware of the effects of typeface as text is continually re-imagined with every technological advancement. The ability to apply meaning to typeface becomes more accessible as we move towards a digitally constructed society. Mark Z Danielewski’s novel ‘House of Leaves’ suggests typeface and the printed page can be manipulated to confound or construct a deeper meaning to text. His modern take on a horror novel plays on every contrived aspect of the literary tradition and book culture today. In a very self-conscious attempt to negate the commentary, footnote and reliability of narrative voice, Danielewski asks the reader to suffer pages cluttered with meaningless text (although in the meaninglessness there is meaning) and exuberant amounts of white space were only one of two words dwell. Fonts are employed to represent the standardized culture in which the book has come to exist to the point where finding meaningful meaning is nearly impossible. The uniformity of print is raped of personality and leaves little of the aesthetic imprints of the author’s hand. Perhaps that is why the scribes hand is so revered today. We enter our special collections libraries to handle carefully the intricate and delicate pages of the manuscript with respect for the hand that laboured over its making. Something of that quality is lost in print and perhaps that is why in Danielewski’s novel we are so drawn to the invisible meaning between the pages.