Micro

Microfiction, micro-memoir, fragments, morsels, microscopic perspectives. 

Here’s a Micrographia written in 1665 by Robert Hooke—I love the descriptions, the tiny attention made to magnified objects, the luscious images.

Robert Walser made use of the miniature form in his Microscripts— tiny embodiments of the minuscule. W. G. Sebald dubbed Walser a “clairvoyant of the small,” and Walser took this smallness literally as his handwriting got smaller and smaller over the course of his career. He even squeezed out a final short novel, The Robber, on 24 sides of octavo-size paper in what scholars believed to be a secret, uncrackable code.

Translator Susan Bernofsky says Walser developed the tiny print to evade writer’s block. In a 1927 letter to a Swiss editor, Walser claimed that his writing was overcome with “a swoon, a cramp, a stupor” that was both “physical and mental” and brought on by the use of a pen; adopting his strange “pencil method” enabled him to “play,” to “scribble, fiddle about.” The Microscripts are written on found materials which make the texts look like collages, modernist mashups toeing the line between mechanical and personal production.

Read this microscript as translated by Susan Bernofsky, and think about the microscript as a tiny, satirical gloss on a topic that is current or trending. The satirical gloss form was popular in early 20th century Europe. A gloss is a brief notation, especially a marginal one or an interlinear one, of the meaning of a word or wording in a text. It may be in the language of the text or in the reader’s language if that is different. A collection of glosses is a glossary. A collection of medieval legal glosses, made by glossators, is called an apparatus. The compilation of glosses into glossaries was the beginning of lexicography, and the glossaries so compiled were in fact the first dictionaries. In modern times a glossary, as opposed to a dictionary, is typically found in a text as an appendix of specialized terms that the typical reader may find unfamiliar. Also, satirical explanations of words and events are called glosses.