Saturday, May 13, 2006

Typewriters and Nostalgia

Darren Wershler-Henry on typewriters and nostalgia:

The effect of nostalgia on our perception of the past is considerable. It's like a thick smear of Vaseline on the lens of a movie camera, blurring our objectivity. From the far side of the millennial divide, a photo of a typewriter doesn't just show a machine but an icon of unalienated modernist writing. The typewriter has become a symbol of a non-existent sepia-toned era when people typed passionately late into the night under the flickering light of a single naked bulb, sleeves rolled up, suspenders hanging down, lighting each new cigarette off the smouldering butt of the last, occasionally taking a pull from the bottle of bourbon in the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet.


Here's an object lesson: walk down to the corner bookstore and see how many books — novels, memoirs, and anthologies alike — sport covers featuring grainy sepia-toned close-up photos of of typewriter keyboards. You'll be there a while, I guarantee it, because there are far too many examples to bother citing. The typewriter is the pre-eminent symbol for earnest, unalienated writing and one of the biggest visual clichés of our age.

From The Iron Whim: A Fragmented History of Typewriting (McClelland & Stewart, 2005) at 25 & 26.


Chuck said...

very interesting view, i must come back and read more.

patricia said...

Ooooo.....I heard about that book; must put it on my list.

I am a tad obsessed with those old Underwood typewriters. I will purchase just about anything that uses the image of an old typewriter.....address books, magnets, greeting name it.

The goal is to have a lovely old Underwood for my library.

Kate S. said...


Me too! There's a lovely irony to the fact that the book is a deconstruction of the mystique of the typewriter yet many readers will be drawn to it precisely because we are in thrall to that mystique.