In preparation for and as an accompaniment to this event, the following is a gathering of ideas and sources on the use of the typewriter in both historical and contemporary art and writing practices.
Such notes function as a personal set of annotations to historical gatherings such as Peter Finch’s 1972 anthology Typewriter Poems, in the introduction to which Finch asserts:
in some poetry there is rhythm, and there is rhyme, there is a metrical structure within which the poet expounds his ideas, spends his words. its hard work. in typewriter poetry there is no rhythm and there is no rhyme, but there is a metrical structure. the space bar, the ratcheted roller, the keys themselves. within those limits the poet explodes his ideas, burns his words. its not easy either. some poets are more structurally minded than others – they add and adapt the basic meter. coloured ribbons, masks, different pressures, overlaps. (5)
and scholarly studies of the field, inparticular Darrel Wershler- Henry’s The Iron Whim: A Fragmented History of Typewriting (McClelland & Stewart, 2005, Cornell UP, 2007) which begins:
Typewriting is dead, but its ghosts still haunt us. Even in our image-saturated culture, the iconic value of the typewriter looms large. Artfully grainy, sepia-toned, close-up photos of its quaint circular keys grace the covers of tastefully matte-laminated paperbacks, announcing yet another volume extolling the virtues of the writing life. In magazine and billboard ads, magnified blotchy serifed fonts mimic the look of text typed on letters that sit crookedly above or below the line with paradoxical consistency. On radio and TV, the rapid clatter of type bars hitting paper signals the beginning of news broadcasts. We all know what this sound means: important information will soon be conveyed. Typewriters may have been consigned to the dustbin of history, but their ghosts are everywhere.
What’s remarkable is not that typewriting continues to haunt us, but that typewriting itself was always haunted. (2)
Another starting point would be Michael Winslow’s The History of the Typewriter, included in Christian Bok’s VJ reel for Information as Materials Sounds Like This event at the Whitehapel Gallery last weekend, where it was projected on the multiple, mirroring screens of Josiah McElheney’s The Past Was A Mirage I Had Left Far Behind:
18/02/11 On skype I ask RL what purpose a gathering of resources like this could serve in relation to the actual performance in Leeds.
RL: It gets that narrative out of the way as a form of research – retro aesthetics. On the day we enact it…. A distinct piece of web forethought… being excited about typewriters… afterwards the focus will be on writing, the product, how we were in the event…
MARY YACOOB writes: The book is called: “10 Ways X”, laserjet print A5 artist book, 2012. I typed the letter X on manual typewriter during the What is an Art Book event organised by the Modern Language Experiment at the Mews Project Space in Whitechapel in Autumn 2011.
I was surprised to see that the top half of the X was printed black and the bottom half was printed black, perhaps because the ribbons crossed.
So I scanned and enlarged the letter X and set out finding a method by which to map the location and tone of the reds and blacks, using geographical and spatial metaphors and scientific visual languages to observe, quantify, measure, classify, and notate.
My first drawing was in black and white and was included in the compendium of typewritten drawings and texts by about 50 artists in the What is an Art Book publication by Modern Language Experiment. A couple of weeks later I started a new artist book in response to the call out by Bookartbookshop on the theme of “X = Or What is to be done?”.
This artist book used the black and white drawing I’d already made as a book cover, and I made a further 10 colour drawings of 10 different methods by which to map the red and black colours and tones of the typewritten letter.
DB: Good morning typewriter. I’m trying to think how our relationship can not be primarily nostalgic.
NOTE: This notion of personally addressing your typewriter is adapted from a quotation by Hannah Weiner, that both RL and DB copy out to send to the other, finding it (again) in Thom Donovan’s article in Jacket2 on “intense autobiography.” Weiner observes:
I bought a new typewriter in January 74 and said quite clearly, perhaps aloud, to the words ( I talked to them as if they were separate from me, as indeed the part of my mind they come from is not known to me) I have this new typewriter and can only type lowercase, capitals, or underlines (somehow I forgot, ignored or couldn’t cope with in the speed I was seeing things, a fourth voice, underlined capitals) so you will have to settle yourselves into three different prints. Thereafter I typed the large printed words I saw in CAPITALS, the words that appeared on the typewriter or the paper I was typing on in underlines (italics) and wrote the part of the journal that was unseen, my own words, in regular upper and lower case.
SOURCE: Hannah Weiner’s Open House, ed. Patrick F. Durgin, Kenning Editions, 2007)
From the beginning of Charles Olson’s Projective Verse the typewriter is integral as instrument and paradigm: a poetry based upon “the kinetics of the thing”; poem as “energy discharge” and “If I hammer, if I recall in, and keep calling in, the breath…” It is two thirds of the way through before the connection is made explicit:
The irony is, from the machine has come one gain not yet sufficiently observed or used, but which leads directly on toward projective verse and its consequences. It is the advantage of the typewriter that, due to its rigidity and its space precisions, it can, for a poet, indicate exactly the breath, the pauses ,the suspensions even of syllables, the juxtapositions even of parts of phrases, which he intends. For the first time the poet has the stave and bar a musician has had. For the first time he can, without the convention of rime and meter, record the listening he has done to his own speech and by that one indicate how he would want any reader, silently or otherwise, to voice his work.
It is time we picked the fruits of the experiments of Cummings, Pound, Williams, each of whom has, after his way, already used the machine as a scoring to his composing, as a script to its vocalization. It is now only a matter of the recognition of the conventions of composition by field for us to bring into being an open verse as formal as the closed, with all its traditional advantages. (245)
Olson goes on to suggest some beginning components of this typewriter-grammar:
If a contemporary poet leaves a space as long as the phrase before it, he means that space to be held, by the breath, an equal length of time. If he suspends a word or syllable at the end of a line (this was most Cummings’ addition) he means that time to pass that it takes the eye – that hair of time suspended – to pick up the next line. If he wishes a pause so light that it hardly separates the words, yet does not want a comma – which is an interruption of the meaning rather than the sounding of the line – follow him when he uses a symbol the typewriter has ready to hand:
What does not change/ is the will to change
Observe him, when he takes advantage of the machine’s multiple margins, to juxtapose:
to dream takes no effort
to think is easy
to act is more difficult
but for a man to act after he has taken thought, this!
is the most difficult thing of all
Each of these lines is a progressing of both the meaning and the breathing forward, and then a backing up, without a progress of any kind of movement outside the unit of time local to the idea. (246)
As Olson concludes:
But what I want to emphasize here, by the emphasis on the typewriter as the personal and instantaneous recorder of the poet’s work, is the already projective nature of verse as the sons of Pound and Williams are practicing it. Already they are composing as though verse was to have the reading its writing involved, as though not the eye but the ear was to be its measurer, as though the intervals of its composition could be so carefully put down as to be precisely the intervals of its registration. For the ear, which once had the burden of memory to quicken it (rime & regular cadence were its aids and have merely lived on in print after the oral necessities were ended) can now again, that the poet has his means, be the threshold of projective verse. (246)
SOURCE: Donald Allen and Benjamin Friedlander eds. Collected Prose, Charles Olson (University of California Press, 1997).
RL: The sound is key (of the keys).
I come across typewriters, seemingly ready for use, after climbing the stairs to the Sylvia Beach library at Shakespeare and Company in Paris.
Some choreography: The writer sat at the typewriter. Pages pulled out of the machine, screwed up and thrown into the bin. We should have bins, RL and DB agree on skype, although as resources to be rummaged in for language when needed rather than trash awaiting collection and removal.
Perhaps, suggests RL, our bins could be at the other end of the table, on opposite sides, because throwing things into/ at the bin is an important part of this particular routine.
I like this idea, imagining how each of us types amongst a diagonal airborn flurry of the other’s rubbish…
off from Weiner and Olson into histories/ practices of poetry: Jack Kerouac (in Capote’s quote) not writing but typing; the centred on the page poems of Michael McClure, which required a practice of counting spaces and letters (the courier font’s democracy of the equal letter size).
Larry Eigner: “with only my right index finger to type with I never could write very fast – to say what I want to when I think of it, before I forget it or how to say it… I typed fast enough back when to be familiar enough with the keyboard to work in the dark or dusk with one finger…” (149)
Cid Corman describes Eigner’s method as he encountered it as an editor and also suggests how it connects to a particular mode of attention and ways of understand the perception- body- typewriter connection:
Larry generally seems to work off his typewriter on a single sheet of paper, sometimes on both sides, sometimes in margins, crowding more than one poem on a page, or more unusually on larger outsize sheets (devised or somehow come by), if my recall is accurate. (Most of his manuscripts have, often in carbons, come my way through the years and yet.)
The random quality is often due to the brevity of the poet’s attentions, acute and wandering. Finding every distraction a focal point and the alert mind mingling ideas, facts, as wires, hinges, bolts, and sometimes just flashes. Glimpses and glances, queer connections of the most familiar.” (146)
SOURCE: Larry Eigner, areas lights heights: writings 1954-1989 (Roof Books, 1989); Cid Corman, At Their Word: Essays on the Arts of Language Volume II (Black Sparrow Press, 1978).
Then coming through to the concrete – the typewriter as mode of composition, the cosmic typewriter of Dom Sylvester Houédard…
… through Nancy Spero’s Artaud Codex, its use of the bulletin typewriter, presenting Artaud’s words whilst mediating and attempting to inhabit his act of writing…. ideas of channeling I talk about with RL on skype as possible score for our DocU…. then ‘typings’ of Christopher Knowles:
DB: If you are about on the sixth let’s meet in TYPE this boutique in Bethnal Green, where the shop sign is two suspended typewriter’s and the whole brand aesthetic is unfolded from the typewriter…
Have you seen scree? A magazine from Edinburgh, whose form copies the typewritten format of Poor. Old. Tired. Horse. and other sixties mags, although I guess they might have made this on indesign… what does it mean to so fully recreate an aesthetic as a means of presenting new, experimental work? Perhaps it provides a container that offers a certain set of values and assumptions about poetry, its importance and legacy…
On skype, I ask RL about her own relationship to the typewriter. As she speaks, I attempt to transcribe what she says:
the manualness of it
as a how to its sob basic is like a-z of writing tutorial level
theres nothing more to it than pressing
]tghe gesture of punching the ket being osmehow gutteral on a writing level
you don’t need any more knowledge forethought afterhought
base level action
the groundedness of it
]thrinking back to cop15 the limitations of it being on ditital
wirtten with a wooden laptop
i really feel like that sppedd miught euseful in this day and age
its a constraint strips away networking the battery life
a typewriter uis somehow much more infinite durable than a computer
a toral object status much more than a website or a computers hard drive
theres an honest to it
a smallness of it a limiting is a productive excericise
a false natural
no more natural on a typewriter than a computer
used to work at that speed with eidting spell chcekc
strip awya focus on marks physical gestures sound
ttyoewrites says hall o i am writng it is happening now
the sound in the wee hours of the morning ressonate arounde the space
like an audio recording of us typing miught be interesting moment.
some kind of stocatto and brail]
RL: Maybe there is no getting away from hunching over a desk ..!
JAMES CLIFFORD: A short essay could be written about typewriters in the field. When Jean Briggs (1970) is ostracized by her Utku Eskimo hosts, she finds solace in her typewriter. Geertz represents the ethical ambiguities of fieldwork through a struggle over a typewriter with a Javanese informant (1968). Colin Turnbull reveals somewhere in The Forest People (1961) that he has the machine with him (forcing us to reimagine his Mbuti villages, adding to the calm suffusion of forest sounds the tap-tap of fieldnotes in the making)… Mead and Bateson in the Iatmul “mosquito room,” facing each other from behind separate typewriters. (63)
Clifford’s examples highlight the situations/ scenes within which the typewriter is present: as physical object, soundscape, symbol, prop, currency.
He goes on to explore the kinds of writing activities and actual text such a machine produces and symbolically represents:
This moment of initial ordering, the making of a neat record (whether in type or script), must be a crucial one in the fieldwork process. “Good data” must be materially produced: they become a distanced, quasi-methodical corpus, something to be accumulated, jealously preserved, duplicated, sent to an academic advisor, cross-referenced, selectively forgotten or manipulated later on. A precious, precarious feeling of control over the social activities of inscription and transcription can result from creating an orderly text. The writing is far from simply a matter of mechanical recording: the “facts” are selected, focused, initially interpreted, cleaned up.
Most writing is sedentary activity. Unlike storytelling, it cannot be done while walking along a path. The turn to the typewriter involves a physical change of state, a break from the multisensory, multifocal perceptions and encounters of participant-observation. Writing of this sort is not “situated” like discourse or an oral story, which includes- or marks in the performance – the time/ space of the present moment and audience. Rather, the present moment is held at bay so as to create a recontextualized, portable account. In crucial respects this sort of writing is more than inscription, more than the recording of a perception or datum of “evidence.” A systematic reordering goes on. Fieldnotes are written in a form that will make sense elsewhere, later on. Some may even, like the notes included in The Religion of Java, pass directly into a published book. Turning to typewriter or notebook, one writes for occasions distant from the field, for oneself years later, for an imagined professional readership, for a teacher, for some complex figure identified with the ultimate destination of the research. Facing the typewriter each night means engaging these “others” or alter egos. No wonder the typewriter or the pen or the notebook can sometimes take on a fetishistic aura.” (63-4)
SOURCE: James Clifford, “Notes on (Field)notes” in Roger Sanjek ed. Fieldnotes: The Makings of Anthropology (Cornell University Press, 1990).
The Bateson and Mead photograph feeds into aspects of our own performance. Two typewriters, two bins, two writers, an act offering a strange mirroring (writers of each other/ writers and event). RL suggests we consider Rodney Graham’s Rhinemetall/ Victoria 8 (2003).
As Julian Heynen observes in his essay on Graham entitled “A Kind of Author”:
Two objects – that is, two machines – confront each other in all their technical detail, and the action appears to play itself out without the intrusion of any human or psychological element. A freestanding 35mm projector projects a film whose sole protagonist is a mechanical typewriter. The various parts of this archaic but elegant machine are presented in a series of slowly changing shots. Its design, like the film’s highly disciplined camera work, is reminiscent of the descriptive matter-of-factness of the nineteen twenties aesthetic of Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity). The metal plate displaying its brand name, Rheinmetall, also alludes to this – and we might mention here in passing that this firm was and is well-known for producing armaments, while the name conjures associations with the much fought-over sunken treasure of Wagner’s opera Das Rheingold (The Rhinegold). In the course of the ten minute film, a fine, snow-like substance falls softly and slowly onto the machine, so that by the end it is almost completely covered. The technical apparatus mutates into a kind of winter landscape. All that can be heard is the mechanical noise of the projector. The typewriter’s streamlined efficiency and its poetic transformation are subverted, if not altogether upstaged, by the sound of the very device that is responsible for bringing them to light, making them visible, and awakening them to life: the projector… Two generators – one of images, the other of text – stand face to face, each the distorted image of the other. (16)
The confrontation of the projector with the typewriter casts onto the wall the emblematic image of the twentieth-century writer, a successor to the quill pen of earlier times, and a mechanical instrument that stands both for literature’s turn to the realities of modern life and for the integration of writing into industrial production. With an equally documentary enthusiasm, the camera records in all its clarity and precision the individual parts of this typewriter, which seem to guarantee the quality of the texts that will be produced by them. Then something else starts falling onto this creative apparatus, at first almost mesmerizingly, but soon completely covering it, indeed burying it so that it becomes unusable. While at the beginning we had the infinite possibilities of text, discourse and criticism, we are left at the end with a beautiful and somewhat mysterious image. A vision of utter stasis is now contrasted with the image machine that continues to operate unceasingly – until the film loop plays the narrative of the two machines’ changing fortunes from the beginning again. (18-19)
SOURCE: Julian Heynen, “A Kind of Author” in Rodney Graham: Through the Forest (Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2010).
RL tweets: Remmington Envoy 111 is slightly more lady-sized. I might use this one and give the Silver Reed 500 to @verysmallkitch @inXclusion
DB: Tamarin Norwood did a performance at the David Roberts Foundation ( Etienne Chambaud VII ‘The Copyist embodied by Tamarin Norwood‘, 2010) where she notated what happened in the gallery. Live writing became surveillance, where someone’s action would be followed a moment later by the sound of her typewriter notating the activity.
I remember Tamarin saying she suspected the gallery receptionist began trying to do things that were not visible – the lack of a following typing sound indicated that the action had been undetected.
Also, M told me she used to put toilet paper in the typewriter and pound away when in a rage. The next day ubuweb was tweeting about this object on ebay which was Moby Dick typed out on toilet paper.
DB: This is the first page of J.G.Ballard’s typed manuscript for CRASH…
RL: pic comes out quite low res, but the handwritten annotations are enough for me to know for sure that no typewriter works at the same pace as a brain, or a thought, or a mind, or a hand.
Maybe using one forces your hand on this level – forces a slowing down, to ponder more, type less?
There is just something so MANUAL about the endeavour that brings it all down to basic elements, or the ground (or slowness, equally speed, is a myth). Typewriters and brains have actually been at the same speed all along.
CARL ANDRE: The grid system for the poems comes from the fact that I was using a mechanical typewriter to write the poems, and as you know a mechanical typewriter has even letter spacing, as opposed to print which has justified lines with unequal letter spacing. A mechanical typewriter is essentially a grid and you cannot evade that. And so it really came from the typewriter that I used the grid rather than from the grid to the typewriter. (212)
I have used the typewriter as a machine or lathe or saw, to apply letters on the page. I really do feel very tactile using a typewriter. I never learnt to use a typewriter automatically. I still only type with one finger but that made each operation of typing a very machine-like act. It was like actually embossing or applying physical impressions on to a page, almost as if I had a chisel and was making a cut or a dye and making a mark on metal. (212)
SOURCE: Carl Andre, Cuts: Texts 1959-2004 (MIT Press, Cambridge, 2005).
DB: Pavel Büchler speaking at Camden Arts centre tonight (08/02/12) about/around the Hanne Darboven show: typewriters in Eastern Europe in the 1970s were a very common thing, but they made you nervous. There were conspiracy theories/ urban legends (maybe true) that the secret service had vast piles of typewriters.
A relative of Büchler’s was imprisoned “for many years” after taking carbon copy paper from work, he said, because no one could think of a non-accusatory reason why someone would do this.
Büchler talked about how he had first encountered Darboven’s work in Prague in the 1970’s where it was valued for its non-aesthetic qualities amongst a group of artists for whom a sheet of paper was a more available form than gallery walls. It was odd, he said, to find himself so taken in 2012 with the aesthetics of these works, both of individual pages/ acts of writing and the overall gallery installation.
I wonder if, as a way of negotiating the retro- and aesthetic, there is a way of using the typewriter that equates to Darboven’s own descriptions of writing:
still each time I have to write, it becomes so calm and so normal. There is no story there, nothing to figure out, not a secret, but still exciting. I feel myself not thinking what other people think, but what I think. I write for myself, there is no other way. This is for me. Going on is the enormous thing I do. (191)
and when (1968) Darboven starts working directly from the calender she observes:
not knowing any more of days, time; just take every day’s mathematical index, a great invention, fiction. No inquiry, no exploration, just to search into something between everything for a time while time is going on… Nothing to write, nothing to read, nothing to say; something to do, contemplation, action. (193)
SOURCE: Lucy Lippard, From the Center: Feminist Essays on Women’s Art ( E.P.Dutton & Co., 1976).
MARIANNE HOLM HANSEN: Now we write in different ways so using the typewriter it becomes something else. We pick it up because a particular reason. My reason is it’s a very physical way of working, of constructing writing or words. I only make words or very short sentences.
It made a lot of sense in response to the lists [in For the Record] to type each word. I’m interested in how things change over time. Putting them in alphabetical order you lost that. Each came from a particular situation, so I thought of returning the words to space, individually spacing them out again, asking the question: could you reimagine the situation from which these words have arisen? I don’t think that worked. It becomes contrived.
Something else came out of one word in a page. It becomes something else. It’s the undo function. There’s no undo. If you do it on the typewriter the trace will always be there of what you did before. If you change your mind you have to start again. On a computer you don’t. On a computer thought more about layout and font beforehand. On a typewriter you have to type it out.
I played around with spacing, put in hyphens: hopeless i made hope-less. It gives you time, being limited in what you can write – the font is set. So I play with the spacing of the words, where it sits on the page. It makes you think about the word itself and the meaning and potential meanings of the word….
Read the full VerySmallKitchen post TYPE TYING TYPINGS TYPIST TYBE: MARIANNE HOLM HANSEN TALKS ARTIST AND TYPEWRITER.
DB: Which brings me, in conclusion, to something else from Pavel Büchler talk, about time and labor. Büchler connected Darboven’s endeavors to a sense of work time and leisure time, a sense of signing on and off at the beginning and end of a work shift.
He contrasted this to Roman Opalka, who he said, in his cynical opinion, had wasted in his life in an obsessive painting of numbers towards infinity. Büchler’s art-labor spectrum was further extended to include On Kawara, understood here as the full time gambler undertaking art projects that require little or no labor (paint the date/ send telegram saying I AM STILL ALIVE).
This reminds me of a recent article in The New Yorker on the popularity in China of work place novels, with titles like Du Lala’s Promotion Diary and Su Changchang’s Struggle to Get a Raise Diary. As we prepare for these 24 hours typing, RL, I’ve been thinking about what makes a project healthily or destuctively obsessive, how to make the distinction…
RL: A writer being in the event/A writer occupation/A writer as channel/conduit/contingency/A writing machine as channel/conduit/contingency/PERFORMANCE(s) and writing as exclusionary or as exclusive. Reaching or coming from the typewriter.