Monday, March 03, 2008

The British Library

Given that libraries have been making me horny since I was about twelve, you would think that spending today in one of the biggest and most comprehensive libraries in the world might have left me pretty worked-up. In fact, despite all the constituent elements of library horniness being there, I actually managed to forego a planned visit to the sauna in the evening and come straight home quite happily. Perhaps it's age catching up with me. I think I feel a post about why exactly libraries have that effect on me coming up in the near future.

Moving on... a day in the British Library. What a treat. Able to examine their bound copy of The Holywell Record, a catholic magazine edited by my friend and yours Frederick Rolfe during one of his most 'off the wall' phases. The magazine only lasted a couple of years in 1888 and 1889 but in that time it's wonderful to see how the content becomes more and more Rolfe until he is pretty much writing the entire magazine under pseudonyms and in bits with no byline. Also it's interesting, although a little pathetic in the truest sense of the word, to see how the tone of Rolfe's writing for the magazine changes in that time as his mental state becomes more and more agitated. One of the things it is easy to forget when becoming intimate with an historical literary figure like Rolfe is that although his literary pyrotechnics and volcanic vitriol may be fun to read they were also, sometimes, the outward sign of some real personal distress for the man himself. So, as his writing in the magazine becomes more and more over the top you realise as you are reading that you are getting a sense of a man slipping down a slope over the course of those two years. The magazine is, of course, also full of previously unpublished material - so look out for more publications in the near future. Also, the most potentially exciting find of the day, is a story which is probably by Rolfe which has so far gone unrecorded. It is interesting not least because it is likely by Rolfe but also because it deals quite candidly with a sentimental love between an officer and his orderly which would make it one of the few pieces by Rolfe to be quite so up front. I am currently consulting with some learned friends to see if we can come to a consensus about whether it is by Rolfe or not but I'm pretty convinced I think.

And on top of all this there was time to take in the 'Breaking the Rules' exhibition at the library, an exhibition about the Avant Garde (mainly) in print. I have to say there were some great individual highlights: one of James Joyce's notebooks containing the draft MS of Finnegan's Wake - almost illegible scribble in pencil and orange crayon: and a t-shirt manifesto, I think by the Sex Pistols although I found the information card very confusing, which had been further customised by being dyed red and having a naked, smoking boy screen-printed over the top.

When I looked at the publicity material for the exhibition I couldn't help but wonder if the designer had slightly missed the mark and made a mess rather than a good set of posters and flyers. However, having seen the exhibition I realise that my sense of graphic design and typography, even if it is overburdened by Carson and his ilk, is a modern one in which even the wildest design is still 'tasteful' somehow, has been refined to modern rules... taken as a whole however, these texts and typographical experiments and designs from the early Avant Garde really were like the poster, just a bit of a mess quite a lot of the time. Still, an interesting enough exhibition but I'm glad it wasn't the reason for my trip to London.

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