Once upon a time, tracts were a crucial way to spread new ideas, and a surprisingly effective one. Tract writing was an art mainly practiced by radicals, non-conformists and other outsiders, and the tracts usually manifested an overflow of passionate argument.
Tracts were small, cheap documents that could be printed in large numbers and left about (in buses, trains and so on) for people to pick up and read. The graphic I’ve used here was a place to deposit tracts in train cars. Anyone who cared enough could shove their tracts into them for people to read. And these receptacles remained into the 1980s.
Alas, this art has all but vanished. And I, one of its few surviving practitioners, mourn for it.
But I also wonder whether a time for tracts may be returning. What I’m thinking is this:
People are bombarded with electronic words and images these days. To call it an avalanche would probably be an understatement.
More than that, this avalanche of information is mundane, repetitive and predictable. As an old musician’s adage goes, when you accent everything, you accent nothing.
Once people turn off the phone, they are faced with blank space. I happen to think that blank space can be good for us, but it is, for sure, a fertile space. The flashing images are turned off and after a few minutes to adjust, serious ideas can be appreciated… even savored.
This chain of thought makes me wonder whether the noble tract could make a comeback.
We live in a world where novelty has been souped-up, scientifically designed, tweaked to the nines and more. The result, ironically enough, is a stream of shouting, glittering sameness. In such a setting, the cheap, unpolished, even slightly grimy tract becomes truly novel.
I, however, am biased, and in some ways out of date. And so, my two questions:
Do you think there is any truth to this?
If so, what kinds of tracts would you actually distribute?
Subject to time and other limitations, if there’s a demand for this, I’ll try to produce them in an easily printable format; you can run ‘em off on your printer or on a copy machine.