Monday, March 19, 2007

More Typewriters

My wife and I watched Stranger Than Fiction this weekend, a pleasant little movie that had me dabbing at my eyes when the end credits rolled. I'm among the multitude that thinks Will Ferrell could read the phone book and get people laughing, so this wasn't a difficult movie to enjoy. And lately meta-movies have revealed a flash of genuine heart within all those layers of meaning and context: contrast Stranger Than Fiction with The Purple Rose of Cairo, and you'll see the difference between a filmmaker who cares for his characters, and a filmmaker intent on hammering home a depressing point of view. So, yes: this movie receives my gentle recommendation.

It was amusing to note that the writer, played by Emma Thompson, uses an enormous electric typewriter. The typewriter packs more visual punch than a computer does, and seems to carry some residual romance with it as well. Which got me curious: how many of our current productive writers use typewriters for their work?

It is a difficult answer to discern with any authority, but — a business committed to the preservation of the typewriter — maintains a list of writers and their typewriters. I can't help noticing that most of these people are dead, and that the youngest among them made the switch to a computer word-processor sometime in the 80s (although David Sedaris might be an exception: we don't know, because his entry has been confused with James Purdy's).

I don't think I could ever compose on a typewriter. There are a number of writers who compose with pen and paper, then transpose that with either computer or typewriter — that's a process I can understand. But actual typewriter composition? Man, that smacks of an immediately permanent record. I doubt anything could constipate my writing process faster than facing that prospect.

No, give me a blank screen and a program with a "Control/Delete" option, please and thank you. I might not be inspired to write a book professing my love of the word processor the way Paul Auster did to his typewriter, but I'll be a happier camper to have around. (Tip of the hat to the first person who can identify why this picture of Papa was obviously posed.)


F.C. Bearded said...

(although David Sedaris might be an exception: we don't know, because his entry has been confused with James Purdy's)."

And, you know, they can't go back and change it, can they?

That is the glory of word processors, and their descendants.

Still: no substitute for writing with a good pen. For pleasure, at least.

DarkoV said...

When I used to have to use the romantic typewriter, I wished for two things.
1) Paper made from old cloth so that my erasing wouldn;t tear it to shreds,
and, #1 not being readily available
2) White-out, in the gallon size variety as my typingf speed exceded my spelling skills.

Do I miss the old electric Olympia, with the lovely hum? you bet!

Do I miss my attrocioulsy difficult to correct typing?
Bring on Microsoft Word, please.

F.C. Bearded said...

Never used an electric typewriter - though they used to make printers with golfballs just like them. Couldn't afford one of those, either.

No, thing I remember about typewriters is a bunch of hammers getting caught all at once, and getting ink all over my fingers trying to disentangle them.

Word was a blessing. Before that was wordstar - a "skill" unto its own. Rather like "vi" the crappy editor, except for regular people rather than Unix geeks.

Cowtown Pattie said...

The photo was posed because Hemingway typed standing up...

Whisky Prajer said...

HT to CP! (Hm - I think I'm experiencing a flashback here...)

trentreimer said...

"Before that was wordstar - a 'skill' unto its own. Rather like 'vi' the crappy editor, except for regular people rather than Unix geeks."

Fortunately there's still 'Emacs' for regular people. What a life saver in 2007!

DarkoV said...

Late to the dance re. Hemingway and his typewriting methodology, but I though you may enjoy this bit.
He was asked why he typed standing up one time. Being a huge fan of prizefighting and somewhat skilled himself in the Sweet Science, he responded with this analogy, "No good fighter ever went ten rounds sitting on his ass."

Unwrap anyone a bon-bon?

Whisky Prajer said...

Yeah, Patty scored first. Kinda unfair, though, since I'm the one who huffed and puffed on her blog about Papa's standing habit.