Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Elegy to the Typewriter

 Mobile Payments Sending Cash Registers The Way of The Typewriter
I started thinking about this post two years ago, when I heard that the last typewriter factory in the world had closed its doors.  I felt such a wave of grief over this news.  I still remember when my parents gave me my first typewriter, in third grade.  It represented to me their understanding that I loved to write, their belief in me as a writer, and their permission to make it official.  That typewriter stayed with me for over twenty years, before it developed so many personality quirks (truly a ghost in the machine) that I could no longer use it reliably for anything meant for public consumption.

I confess.  I don't use a typewriter anymore.  I haven't for years.  But I still felt so saddened and heartbroken at the notion that such machines had truly gone the way of the dinosaur.

As it turns out, the "last typewriter factory" story wasn't entirely accurate.  The rumors of its death have been exaggerated, though I doubt we can say the exaggeration was great.  Typewriters are still being made, but I wonder for how long.  

We may love the idea of the typewriter more than the machine itself.  It represents a vigorous physical relationship between writer and creation.  Creating on a typewriter is not quiet and subdued, something you do at the beach or the coffee shop or in a secluded garden.  It's loud.  It hammers and bangs and dings and zips.  When the words flow, the typewriter announces it with rapid, staccato urgency.  And when the words slow, there is an ominous, suspenseful sound, footsteps stalking the hallway and pausing to listen at your door.  Mistakes are rocks over which you must stumble, realities you must face and deal with, requiring effort, and correcting tape or liquid paper, to remove.  This is a different animal than writing by hand or by computer.

Does this difference in the physical act impact a writer's style?  I wonder.  Are the works of the typewriter's heyday stylistically distinct from those created before and after?  You could make an argument that they are, that the peak of the typewriting era was also the emergence of rugged styles such as Hemingway, Heller, Salinger - the Americans riding in and driving out the more rococo prose of 19th century novelists.

Some writers (Harlan Ellison, for example) still swear by composition on the typewriter.  Is it a matter of age and generation?  Are there young writers today, under the age of 20, for example, who have even experienced writing by typewriter?  I imagine they are rare and that, like the quill pen, the pounding power of creation by typewriter is becoming an oddity, a curiosity, drifting into a past beyond retro and landing at last on the shores of antique, where it will not be lost but rather kept alive by a small but ever-present order of devotees who will share their love of this John Henry of a machine with anyone who cares to hear.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, I love the idea of the typewriter, it's a beautiful machine to me. But I don't miss it. My writing began with pencil and paper, and I can always return to that format any time I like. My writing improved when I got a computer.


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