I’ve had a long holiday from this blog for various reasons including moving house, re-building it, and printing and publishing our new Diwan translation and all that that involved. Two months of unusually hot weather here in Spain further slowed my desire to visit my blog and only when I finally submitted to installing air-conditioning have I had the energy and inclination to put thumbs and fingers to Ipad. It’s odd when you are used to daily temperatures in the high 90s, often over 100ºF (that’s 38ºC) and you walk into a room in your house that’s like a fridge. Your whole life changes. I don’t think AC is without its down sides but right now it’s a relief.
I don’t envy publishers who produce books on a regular basis and try to make a living in the process. Fortunately making a living as a publisher is not one of my career goals and this Diwan is looking more and more like a one-off charity event. This is because of the hidden overheads, the free copies, the cost of ISBNs and the books that you have to send by law to five British deposit libraries. But nonetheless working on it has been a wonderful experience even though there were shortcomings in the final printed book. The standards of proofing could have been better but typesetting and proof reading a complex text which is in effect three languages, (if you count transliterated arabic as a language), then getting it right first time was being a bit hopeful.
The fact that readers have been discovering errors and telling me was proof that it was being read and closely read, which is gratifying. After all it is a living thing which is not just picked up once and then forgotten about. Until it is memorised and understood then it is likely that it will go on being used in perpetuity and why it will continue to be a work-in-progress and why we are happy to have any reasonable suggestions to improve it. The value of the content of the book to any rational human being cannot be under-estimated.
This first edition was a short run and we hope to go for a new improved edition as soon as it is viable. I want to thank the many people who have bought one, two, three, four copies at a time. This Diwan has been hard to get hold of in the last 30-40 years whether in English or in Arabic and even for myself this new translation has injected new and refreshed understanding of its contents.
‘There are no Accidents’ (Miles Davis)
Looking back at this blog over the last five years I’ve been writing it, by far the most visits have been to do with typography which surprised me as it is really an arcane pursuit and I was hopeful my rantings on other subjects weren’t falling on deaf ears. One thing I’ve learnt in the many years I’ve been involved with all kinds of design is that you learn the rules in order to creatively break them. For me all so-called mistakes are creative opportunities. That goes for all of life really. In jazz improvisation for example it is the accident that is the very spring of creative ideas. All you have to do is to know what to do with the mistake. The same can be said of graphic design and particularly typesetting and book design which is all rules, based on well-tried methods but in which there is always room for the odd quirky variation if it doesn’t rock the boat too much. I have to deal with editors quite often who aside from writers have their own often pedantic notions of what is right and wrong. And I often fall foul of this although I know I can be wrong and that compromise is often the best solution. I just have preferences which I push for as much as possible.
The transliteration I spoke of above is one territory where pedantry lives and breathes. Mostly writers, publishers and typographers have a consensus on how to best represent, for example, an Arabic letter or vowel in roman script. My biggest complaint is that no-one really holds to any one system and I get every conceivable kind of transliteration system sent to me. But I should be grateful as it is much simpler now than it ever used to be. One lengthy manuscript I received some ten years ago was constructed in Word on a PC and all transliteration marks were little macros which it took weeks to decode and convert into a usable font. At times I thought I was in Bletchley Park in WW2 working on the Enigma code, it was so incomprehensible. The coming of Unicode and pro-fonts made things much easier in many ways but also opened the door to new levels of pedantry because so much more was possible. I can give you one example.
The ayn symbol, commonly used now for over 25 years by myself and many publishers I have worked with ( a superscript c) has always sufficed very well. But recently editors and writers have introduced a reverse superscript c to represent an Arabic hamza. (see example above). The hamza has always sufficed as a reverse apostrophe and could not be confused with the aforesaid ayn symbol. But having two c symbols vying with each other for attention is a mistake in my opinion and I advise my clients to avoid it. It might seem like a small thing but typography is all about very small things all being as perfect as possible and this reverse c symbol seems to be wrong. There’s other issues which I won’t go into here. But you see how we shouldn’t let rules take us over if there is no point in them.
A Film on Andalusi Calligraphy.
At times I have written about my much loved Andalusi Arabic script which was made illegal after the Catholic king and queen took over Granada after 1492. To have abolished a language and its writing must have meant that they were afraid of something so terrible that if you so much as had a book containing Arabic in your possession you could face extreme punishment, torture and death. Arabic books were burnt in their millions.
A crowdfunding campaign has just been launched (see below) to help complete a documentary on this subject. Please visit and contribute even a few dollars as it’s the number of contributions that gives it prominence not the amounts donated. These old scripts are like languages and rare plant and animal species threatened with extinction. They are all things of beauty which you can personally help preserve.