Monday, November 30, 2009

The Technology of Craft: Cormac McCarthy's Typewriter

TECHNOLOGY COMES FROM THE Greek word technae, which means "art" or "craft." One wonders what the relationship might be between the technology of Cormac McCarthy's typewriter (above) and the art produced on it. Form does, after all, follow function. Or, in the case of clipped sentences, does function determine form?

McCarthy recently announced that he plans to sell his Olivetti typewriter since it's showing signs of wear and tear.

A couple of years ago, while in Havana, I saw the typewriter Alejo Carpentier wrote most of his novels on. A piece of paper was still spooled around the roller, part of a manuscript page frozen in time, partially typed and intertwined like a clingy but devoted lover around the body of the machine. I remember how stirring it was to see the implement of art-making making art. Its tactileness was just so much cooler than my laptop.

It's those love hickeys, disguised as battle wounds, that stand out on McCarthy's machine.


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  2. Clack, clack, clack, clack, ding! I love old typewriters and I have an ancient Royal that still works. It takes actual effort to depress the keys. When I was writing on it regularly -- remember letters? actual letters on paper that were sent through the postal service? -- I had forearms like Yannick Noah's!

    But if it is true that form follows function in regards to writing instruments, why did Benjamin Franklin write such long, elaborate prose when he had to do such with a quill pen? It needed refilling every other word, and it needed sharpening after each page. It seems he would have written short, terse sentences to make life easier.

    Perhaps composing with a quill pen took so much time that Ben was able to fill in his sentences with more thoughts and asides and connections. Now writing technology approaches the speed of our thoughts, so there is no time to develop a sentence between the moment of its conception and the moment of its inscription.

  3. Putting my YA novel into a cell phone text novel style with a max of 160 characters per entry changed my writing style. No more run-on, convoluted sentences.