Thursday, 18 January 2007

The blank page

You have to read Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy in a facsimile of its original presentation (complete text there, bookmark it) or you can’t get a clear view of all that hankypanky with the typography. Famously there is the blank page where the reader is invited to draw his own portrait of the Widow Wadman: (scroll halfway down) “And possibly, dear reader, with such a temptation… paint her to your own mind… as unlike your wife as your conscience will let you”... ( and on the right, a blank page)

I’ve seen Sterne’s same blank page pop up in a couple of recent books. It is definitely Sterne’s and has been borrowed in an act of homage. The writer is acknowledging a spiritual mentor by correct gestures of obeisance.

Firstly, Dave Eggers You Shall Know Our Velocity (2002)
"The boat was skipping and then there would be a larger wave, or we would hit a regular wave a certain way, and the pause between when we became airborne..." (and on the right, a blank page, followed by two more blank pages, then another half) ... and WHACK when we landed..."
It starts on page 156 in the copy I have, but I smell a rat because I gather that the original presentation started with the first page of text on the cover, like so:

and if they've shifted that indoors then the numbering's all 'whacked", and I'll need this one also in 'a facsimile of its original presentation' .

Secondly, Jonathan Safran Foer in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2005). The blind woman has been writing her life story, hundreds of pages, not knowing that the ribbon was removed from the typewriter some time before. The husband: "I picked up the pages and wandered through them, trying to find the one on which she was born, her first love, when she last saw her parents, and I was looking for Anna too, I searched and searched, I got a paper cut on my forefinger and bled a little flower onto the page on which I should have seen her kissing somebody, but this was all I saw:" ... (and on the right, a blank page, followed by two more blank pages, then)..."I wanted to cry..."

In Playboy, jan 2004, Foer, the unstoppable collector, wrote a whole essay about blank pages "I'm writing this essay for a magazine that, for all of its other attributes, is distinguished by its unclothed women. What about an unclothed page?"
"I started collecting empty paper soon after I finished my first novel, about two years ago. A family friend had been helping to archive Isaac Bashevis Singer's belongings for the university where his papers and artifacts were to be kept. Among the many items to be disposed of was a stack of Singer's unused typewriter paper..."
He keeps the topmost of these blank pages and it becomes a spiritual talisman, launching an obsessive quest that leads Foer to many blank pages, and ultimately to Freud and Anne Frank in an extraordinary little article found in a most unexpected place.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know you've never liked the book, but in mine and James Robinson's Bluebeard, I used a blank page on page 46. Got into all sorts of bother with the publisher and printer who wanted to know where the a/w was.

Also did the something similar in a panel from one of my Gimbley tales in Blite.

Didn't realise that there's a longer tradition of using blank pages

18 January 2007 at 05:58:00 GMT-5  
Blogger drjon said...

I did also in the Apocrypha, however the influence there was unrelated to the literary tradition, and twofold: firstly, from the military habit of using blank pages, titled as such (this because of the similar stylistic influence Hill and Thornley evinced in the Principia, although they did not actually use the blank page trope), and secondly, given the preponderance in the work of early eighties-era BBS scripture, from the Computer Manual habit of titled same.

More than you ever wanted or cared to know... ;})>

18 January 2007 at 07:03:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It isn't released for a couple of months, but I saw a proof copy 'The Raw Shark Texts' by Steven Hall, and he uses not only the blank page trope but also all manner typographical effects throughout the 'regular' novel. This includes rendering the image of his shark in words on a blank background and having it swim towards you over a number of otherwise-blank pages.

Ben Smith

18 January 2007 at 08:24:00 GMT-5  
Blogger James Robert Smith said...


I think I've seen this gimmick used here and there. My memory is so poor that I can't recall what books.

Just ordered several of the Bacchus volumes. I'd almost forgotten how much fun they were since I didn't have any copies left in the house.

Funny thing: when I initially did a search for "Eddie Campbell" at, a list of beauty products emerged. A glitch, apparently, as it did not repeat. The gods at work?

18 January 2007 at 11:41:00 GMT-5  
Blogger spacedlaw said...

Interesting article that of Foer. I can completely empathize with his feelings regarding that first collected page and the projection that he makes regarding blank pages when writing. I confess being a compulsive buyer of notebooks which I would never dare to defile with any markings, as if any word would preclude the existence of – not necessarily better – but different ones.
A blank page is a whole future – endless dreams and possibilities – that cannot be breached.
An electronic blank page cannot convey that same “sacred” feeling, of course, for its virginity can always been restored.

18 January 2007 at 12:19:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Jack Ruttan said...

I wsa always challenged by the "This Page Purposely Left Blank" pages in Dover editions. (I think it was)

18 January 2007 at 16:50:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Damien said...

Two things, here:

1) I appreciate that you need that which is as close to the original as possible, even if only for half a page.

2) Presupposing that you've read it (because who hasn't at this point, right? I mean, come On[end-irony]), what were your thoughts on Danielewski's House (see it in blue) of Leaves?

19 January 2007 at 01:11:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

thanks, all.
james... I think my Black Diamond gets back to that 'fun' thing, or at least one observer thinks it may be so after looking at the trailer. (first second site)...

I want to write at length about Danielewski. I have his Revolutions but haven't got far with it yet. we'll see.

I'll check out Stephen Hall


20 January 2007 at 05:59:00 GMT-5  
Blogger The Firehouse Collective said...

Hey Eddie - I've got that Dave Eggers book (picked it up at a garage sale of all places), and it does indeed begin on the cover. It's a nicely printed book, though it's still in my pile of books I have to read.


22 January 2007 at 10:02:00 GMT-5  
Blogger ericoassis said...

Dave Eggers did it again in his short story collection, HOW WE ARE HUNGRY. One of the stories is called "There Are Some Things He Should Keep To Himself", which is comprised of this title in the first page, followed by five or six blank pages. And that's it.

23 January 2007 at 17:54:00 GMT-5  

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