:: Buzzwords Archive: June 2016. Click here for the latest posts.

Specimen Launch in London (published 10/06/2016)


Specimen, a multilingual and typographical webzine, will be launched at Babel Festival in London on June 18th. The debut issue includes work by Derek Walcott, Peter Doig, Enrique Vila-Matas, Aleksandr Hemon and Xiaolu Guo. Keep up with them at @babelspecimen

A Typographic Glossary – From A to T
by Vanni Banconi

Specimen is a highly typographical and entirely multilingual web-magazine, which through translation gives voice to the multifaceted world.
Specimen‘s contents are in every language and alphabet, potentially translated into and from any other language, from the original or from an existing translation. With a special inclination for second languages and hybrid forms.
Specimen engages a wide network of writers, artists and thinkers, and foregrounds relation as the core of its approach.

“Linguistic hospitality, then, where the pleasure of dwelling in the other’s language is balanced by the pleasure of receiving the foreign word at home, in one’s own welcoming house … It is this which serves as a model for other forms of hospitality that I think resemble it” – Paul Ricoeur

Specimen stems from Babel, the festival of literature and translation, which over the last 10 years has welcomed writers from the most diverse cultures, detected a worldwide network of affinities, and seen to the publication of columns, magazines and entire book series. Now, Specimen aims at overcoming the boundaries of Babel and at reaching out to the world, through the web, lightly.

Specimen asks the web: what is it that you don’t have, and that printed books do? And so, thanks to a long experience in publishing that goes all the way back to movable type printing, Specimen brings to the web the typographical and editorial touch of the finest publications on paper. And a slow pace too.

The scope of languages, alphabets and styles published by Specimen: totally wide open. Specimen will feature every written genre, as well as their mixes and combinations. Specimen is oh-so-open, yet in a way concealed in the partially enclosed, somewhat rounded negative space in some characters.

The linguistic arrow rather than the narrative arc. Specimen looks for types that keep moving, writers who are driven by language: the word, the verse, the sentence, the paragraph – measures more apt to tune to the uncertain, the breath and the imperceptible, rather than plots, characters, messages and other dimensions that can so easily fall into ready-made clichés.

The imaginary line upon which the letters in a font appear to rest.
“A solitude ten thousand fathoms deep
Sustains the bed on which we lie, my dear:
Although I love you, you will have to leap;
Our dream of safety has to disappear”
– W.H. Auden

“Because civilizations are finite, in the life of each of them there comes a moment when the center ceases to hold. What keeps them at such times from disintegration is not legions but language. Such was the case of Rome, and before that, of Hellenic Greece. The job of holding the center at such times is often done by the men from the provinces, from the outskirts. Contrary to popular belief, the outskirts are not where the world ends – they are precisely where it begins to unfurl. That affects language no less than the eye” –  Joseph Brodsky

Case Sensitive
Specimen chases second languages in all their forms because translations, multilingualism, echolalias and linguistic hospitalities multiply the layers of language and pronounce diversities. They force us to have second thoughts. They give us a second chance.

Central European
Specimen stems from Babel, which was born in the middle of the Swiss Alps. Switzerland, Babel and Specimen have the same mother tongue, translation. To start with, much of Specimen’s content will be in languages related to the region: Italian, French, German, English. Then, with the expansion of Specimen’s network, the addition of more and more languages will map this growth.

The distinguishing nature of something. Any letter, numeral, punctuation mark, and other sign included in a font. The quality of being an individual in an interesting way. Also, in unusual ways.

“To be radicant means setting one’s roots in motion, staging them in heterogeneous contexts and formats, denying them the power to completely define one’s identity, translating ideas, transcoding images, transplanting behaviours, exchanging rather than imposing” – Nicholas Bourriaud

Specimen wishes to oppose globalisation in its own territory by embracing the entire world in its diversity and, through translation and correlation, engaging all of world’s tongues in dialogue.

“Even as a child, I belonged to my words and my words only. I don’t belong to a Country, I don’t belong to a specific culture. If I didn’t write, if I didn’t work on my words, I would have no way of feeling my presence on earth. What is a word? And a life? I think that, in the end, they are the same thing. As a word can have several dimensions, several nuances, such complexity, so does a person, and a life. The language is the mirror, the main metaphor. Because, after all, the meaning of a word, just like the meaning of a person, is something boundless, ineffable” – Jhumpa Lahiri

Family, Super Family
Super families are collections of coordinated type families that cross type classifications, and are designed to work together in perfect harmony. Specimen‘s contents are commissioned and selected by an editorial board that will grow with each and every language.

Hybrid Figures
“What I call creolization is a phenomenon of cultural mixing at a given time and place without the elements brought into contact being dissolved in the mixture: creolization is not dilution” –
Édouard Glissant

Ink Trap
Specimen asks the web: what is it that printed books don’t have, and you could have? Specimen is interactive and customizable: you can change texture and background colour thanks to special slider features, choose the font size and the article layout, create relations among articles, receive notifications for your favourite topics and create your own magazine.

“The unity is submarine,” wrote Barbadian poet Edward Kamau Brathwaite. Submarine convergence, submarine roots floating free: “not fixed in one position in some primordial spot, but extending in all directions in our world through its network of branches,” added Édouard Glissant.

Specimen likes the web, but it likes being a book as well, so it will occasionally take the form of fine prints or digital publications on-demand. And as it likes voices, flesh and blood too, it will speak and read at events and festivals.

Multiple Language
Specimen is open to all alphabets, its contents will be in all languages, in original or translation. Most texts will be translated into at least one other language, in non-systematic ways. The different versions will share the same page and will influence each other, in non-hierarchical ways, as if there weren’t such things as an original and a translation.

“‘In a word,’ commented Tristram at one point, ‘my work is digressive, and it is progressive too, – and at the same time.’ As Nietzsche noted, Sterne’s style is an ‘endless melody. – His digressions are at the same time continuations and further developments of the story; his aphorisms are at the same time an expression of an attitude of irony towards all sententiousness, his antipathy to seriousness is united with a tendency to be unable to regard anything merely superficially.’ Tristram’s chat was careful, it was thematically precise” – Adam Thirlwell

The most recent font format emerged at the beginning of the new millennium. Is it an essay, a memoir, fiction, poetry, reportage? Whatever we write, we are in it, and we better deal with that.

Specimen’s editorial board will pay a lot of attention to all that’s written, translated and editable. As far as it can understand the language. As soon as the life of the project crosses over the known languages, a spellbound editorial board will trust those who bring them the unreadable and the unknown.

Point Size
“Here is a thought experiment: what if you could translate everything you’d ever want from one language from another, if everything in any language would match everything in other languages. If that were possible, we would all be speaking one language. That, to me, is not an attractive proposition. There are many things I cannot translate exactly from one language to another, but that means that meanings and words are transformed – not lost – in that process. Translation creates new layers of language” – Aleksandar Hemon

A typographic specimen presents the same string of words repeated a number of times in different alphabets, fonts, styles: each one of these paragraphs is unique yet related to every other, is individual yet representative of a wider family, each is significant both for its difference and its similarities with every other. Did we tell you we like metaphors?

Teardrop Terminal
A terminal that resolves into teardrop shape. But there is nothing wrong with happy endings, really.

Sparkle Street Social & Athletic Club Part Three / NYC (published )


Readings by Mike DeCapite, Vincent Katz, and Luc Sante. Short films by Ted Barron. It’s at 4pm on June 12th — and it’s free! Details here.

NYC 10003

[Photo: Ted Barron, J Train Rails, 2008.]