Handmade Looking Writing

Reviewing “Lesser Panda,” by Sarah Morris at White Cube in London, The Guardian’s Adrian Searle recently wrote “Technically, Morris’s paintings are so accomplished there is nowhere for them to go. They are what they are and do what they do, resolutely declaring themselves as both product and spectacle.”

Next to a Sarah Morris painting I feel sweaty, awkward, street-soiled and gangling. There’s not a bleed of paint, an errant hair or a fly trapped anywhere in the paint. If Morris’s horizontals or verticals ever appear off-whack, it is because the world is wrong. Euclid would run screaming from the room.
To witness such perfection in a handmade object is wearying. Even Mondrian was allowed blips. Barnett Newman was positively sloppy. Morris’s unremitting dazzle is somehow soulless and inhuman, which I guess is the intention. However much the colour sings and the Olympic quoits jump and shuffle about, the general effect is alienating.


Reading that, I was reminded of an interview with Margaret Kilgallen, where she said she tries her best to make her lines even, but she doesn’t mind some asymmetry or crookedness as it is the sign of a human touch.

Will the Kilgallen way ever be the prevailing attitude toward online writing: the idea that a typo here or there is just the sign of a human being behind the text?
Were an artist to seek “perfection” in every painting, the end result would likely be fewer paintings. Some artists are better at it: a tighter grip, keener eye, or a number of other factors enable more precision. While it is true there is some laziness to letting a line get crooked, I don’t know of any art critic holding it against an artist unless it is obvious.

Published writers aren’t allowed mistakes. To many, any kind of error proves absence of authority. Previously, we discussed the unlikelihood of conversational artificial life any time soon. The English language has far too many words, each nuanced with a number of scarcely interpretable resonances. But someday we’ll be talking to robots and they’ll be writing our press releases. And when they do, will it seem “more human” to let go a misspelling or a grammatical error here or there? You know…just to keep the reader on his toes.
The amount of email we all struggle with means if you weren’t born with a copyediting sixth sense, you probably made several errors today. The l33t-speak “teh” once signaled “I’m too busy to backspace.” (Don’t we often feel that way? I’ve got something like 50 emails weighing on my shoulders and I’d love it if half the future recipients wouldn’t be offended if I typed the message out as fast as I think it.)
Also, we make tradeoffs with our time. Time is allocated depending on the priority of the recipient. A document I turn in to my employer is edited line by line several times. But with emails to friends, I don’t just skip spell check — sometimes I don’t read it over before pressing send (which usually leads to clarifications in the Re:s, but anyway!) My blog is somewhere in the middle. Fretting over the spelling and grammar eats into the short time I have to write the posts. And writing out my ideas is the point of this blog. That being said, it’s the first page result googling my name, and on the off chance someone important is checking it out, I don’t want to appear hasty or incompetent.

That’s what spelling and grammar is all about: appearances. There are people out there who, no matter what you accomplish in life, will view you as at a third grade intellect if your tenses don’t match.

Tech Dirt recently wrote:

There’s a class of folks (you know who you are!) who are well known in any kind of written forum/blog/email list etc. It’s the infamous “Grammar Nazi.” There are nice Grammar Nazis — and we appreciate those — and then there are the obnoxious Grammar Nazis who like to imply that you are the stupidest person to ever touch a keyboard because you mixed up affect and effect. From my perspective, I certainly appreciate the folks who point out the grammatical errors we make (we try to fix them quickly, if it makes sense), though I often find it silly to get bogged down in some of the minutiae of certain grammar rules that for all intents and purposes are almost universally ignored.

He also explains a nice Grammar Nazi (“usually emails us privately”) and the obnoxious kind (“always, always, always posts their comments publicly.”) By the way, if a writer does happen to write “you’re” instead of “your”: yes, he probably does know the difference, dearest helpful readers. Those of us without the sixth sense sometimes type homophones when we are working fast.
What is particularly vexing about the correctors is the implication that someone who makes typos doesn’t deserve to write. This is the belief of elementary school English teachers, at least when I was growing up. Points were docked for misplaced commas or misspellings, so the person with the highest grade didn’t necessarily write the greatest essay.
The best editors aren’t the best writers. I like the first draft quality of Philip K. Dick’s books. Maybe Gertrude Stein wasn’t as self-aware as people thought, when it came to her run-on sentences. I hate to think the reason modern literature is so barren these days is because the genius novelist we’ve been waiting for was turned away by a Random House editor, “Ah, he can’t spell.”
Art by Sarah Morris.

The Tomorrow Museum
Aug. 13, 2008