Writing From The Margins

Technological Narratives of Arabic Typography

Narratives of Arabic typography shift between technological exclusion, historical resistance, and cultural rediscovery. From negotiations surrounding the display of Arabic script by Internet browsers, to stories framing Egyptian printing as a direct result of the Napoleonic invasion, to claims suggesting Arabic typography as the continuation of a rich calligraphic tradition, the histories and possibilities of Arabic writing come to signify inclusion and exclusion within international media networks.

Drawing upon historical examples as well as interviews with contemporary typographers, the paper examines how narratives of Arabic script situate readers, writers, and designers in relation to global flows of information exchange. The marginality of Arabic writing alternatively suggests a weakened cultural position or a strengthened critical stance, and ‘writing from the margins’ reflects both these concerns.

On the one hand, ‘marginal writing’ indicates the continuing negotiation of technological difficulties facing Arabic typography and the role of Arabic in global networks of communication. How do assumptions of programming and technology limit the types of writing that contribute to online debates? But the phrase also refers to the importance of marginal commentary in the Arabic manuscript tradition, and the importance of the margin as a place of both the reflection upon and the expansion of a dominant text.

How might these practices translate into the realms of print and, more recently, digital design? And how might the ‘marginality’ of Arabic typography offer a critical mirror with which to examine Internet discourse dominated by Latin characters?