The Missing Ink: Philip Hensher Explores Lost Art of Handwriting

With thank-you note season in full swing, Lauren Palmer take a closer look at the endangered species that is handwriting. Here’s her take on Philip Hensher‘s The Missing Ink, recently released in paperback by Faber & Faber.

missing ink coverBack when I was in kindergarten, I remember entering the classroom on Monday mornings and marveling at the new letter of the alphabet displayed in masking tape in the center of the floor. One huge letterform in either capital or lowercase, print or cursive, to be traced with our tiny steps before our tiny hands put pen to paper. For the next six years, I was taught the art of handwriting through tedious in-class drills and homework assignments. I can look back now and praise my teachers for instructing me on how to write legibly. Yet the years of typing and texting since have turned my script into a hybrid scrawl: messy, unfocused, and decidedly illegible.

Is handwriting inextricably linked to personality? Does poor script mean moral failure, or vice versa? Philip Hensher evaluates these ideas put forth by early graphologists in The Missing Ink. It’s fascinating to think that one’s handwriting was once a signifier of suitability for a job, or a mate. With examples and analysis taken from literature, psychology, and product design, Hensher examines how penmanship “is what registers our individuality, and the mark which our culture has made on us.”

Hensher’s idea for the book came from a realization that he didn’t know what a particular friend’s handwriting looked like—should this matter in today’s world of ever-present digital communication? The Missing Ink tells us what will be lost when handwriting is forgone. So send that personalized birthday card or thank-you note—it’s more special that way.

Lauren Palmer is a student in the MFA Design Criticism program at the School of Visual Arts in New York. Follow her on Twitter at @petite_crevette.