A Lot of Gall

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By Ted Bishop 

An excerpt from The Social Life of Ink (Penguin Random House Canada, Fall 2014)

Banff Centre Press, available for free.

Given the popular conception of the hacker as technophile, it might seem strange that our first digital story is about ink—the substance responsible for communication on paper, rather than discovery through metadata. But as Ted Bishop explains in A Lot of Gall, the indelible iron gall ink, used by da Vinci, Bach, Shakespeare, worked by hacking: “its virtue, and sometimes its vice, is that it did not sit on the surface, it reacted with the collagen in parchment or the cellulose in paper, eating into it, forming a chemical bond.” 

Iron gall ink hacks into paper in a mysterious, slightly deceptive, almost “magical” way: by going on “almost clear, it is like writing in air, and then you notice a few inches behind your pen the fluid is darkening as it catches up with you.”

In A Lot of Gall, read about Ted Bishop’s experiment of making iron gall ink with his students, and the history of a medium for communication that still leaves a material trace.

Ted Bishop is the author of Riding with Rilke: Reflections on Motorcycles and Books, a Canadian bestseller that was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Literary Award for Non-Fiction. His new book is The Social Life of Ink (Penguin Random House Canada, Fall 2014). He teaches at the University of Alberta and writes with a fountain pen.