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Thursday 31 July 2014

The Affectation of Using Typewriters

behaviour, speech, or writing that is pretentious and designed to impress.
. a studied display of real or pretended feeling.
M. Emmet Walsh at a Royal Arrow portable typewriter, as 'The Writer' in Calvary.
"Hi all. I've been interested in securing some sort of typewriter for myself for a few years now, just don't really know where to look. I also have no clue what I'm looking for. I just want the ol' time, key-punching experience on my escritoire. There's nothing romantic about tapping it out on a MacBook keyboard, I'm sure most of you'll hear me on that."
"You need to decide if you want a manual for street cred, or an electric one that can actually be used."
"Though I know a lot of people who would disagree, there's nothing romantic about suffering with a typewriter (and you will suffer) when better technology exists. Using a typewriter is more of an affectation at this point, unless you grew up typing on them and it's a natural thing for you. Just having one to have one is cute, but it will end up being a dusty knick-knack on your escritoire a month after you get it, I'd bet money on that."
"When old people die the family will sometimes sell the old useless artifacts and that will usually include a typewriter or two."
"Here in Portland I saw at least a dozen at yard or garage sales, and even one or two at some of the more hipster-friendly thrift shops. I wanted one a few years back before I moved out here because I was reading about Hunter Thompson dragging his all around the country chasing after the Beats ... but then I used one and hated the experience the whole time. Well, not the WHOLE time. But most of it."
"As a bumbling fool when it comes to techno-stuff, I like typing something & it not disappearing if I hit the wrong key ... or lose a disc or whatever. I started writing on a typewriter about 15 years ago, and I still do quite a few first drafts that way. But I do the 2nd drafts on a computer, as the ease, in terms of editing, can't be overstated. I also like typing letters on the old beast. Servicing it can be tricky and expensive (if it's broken), and you can't find new ribbons at Wal*Mart ... but I don't mind the inconvenience."
"I have one that weighs about four metric tonnes, but aside from her big booty I do love the way she spreads it on the page. Of course, as others have said, she can be a real pain in the arse at times. For example when six hammers (is that what you call 'em?) stick together, or when you have to hit that troublesome key 10 times to get the ink clear, only to end up with a messy blob. I find using a typer makes the writing process more physical (if you have an old beast like me), but in the end I always go back to my Mac as she may not be as much fun, but she is easy. Mine came from a church sale. The old dears said to me 'It doesn't have the Internet young man'. It turns out, after trying to connect it to my wireless, they were right."
"A typewriter? What! That would be like buying a vinyl when you could pick up the MP3 version of the same album! Geez!"
"I was in a lame anti-technology phase for awhile and I thought that learning to use a typewriter would somehow lend me some kind of authenticity. Of course, it doesn't work that way. But I let the hip romance of nostalgia sway me, and I bought a few. They are incredibly annoying if you're accustomed to a computer, but in and of themselves they work fine."
- forum exchange, late December 2009
"I know some will see using a typewriter as pure writerly affectation but I would argue that, while I fit the hipster stereotype in some ways (the thick glasses, the coffee drinking, the book cover T-shirts) my typewriters are more than the ultimate hipster accessory."
- Dan Powell, Reverting to Type
I’ve gone back  to typewriting. On my typewriter. I know, I know. This affectation has puzzled friends and given my wife a rattling in the ears. But I keep finding new reasons to pursue it."
- William Sutton, author of the Campbell Lawless Victorian Mysteries,
on his Razon's portable, one month ago.
"Hipsters, however, are apparently too young to realise what a pain manual typewriters really were. But then, hipsters never met an affectation too ridiculous to misappropriate. They’ve now embraced typewriters, bless their hearts. - Anon.
"There was a guy I knew in college who used to live in the apartment above me. He wore Ascot ties, smoked a pipe, and wrote all his school papers on an ancient typewriter instead of a computer. The typewriter reverberated through his metal desk into the ceiling of my bedroom causing a constant WHAPPITY WHAPPITY WHAP to echo through my room whenever he was writing. The day I went up to his place to ask him to please accept my offer of felt pads to put under the legs of his desk, he answered the door in a smoking jacket holding a brandy snifter. I wanted to punch him in the face. Every time I see a young dude smoking a pipe in public, I assume it's secretly my typewriter guy wearing a disguise, and I want to punch him in the face." - Anon.
"Why would you bring a typewriter to a coffee shop? Seriously, you actually lugged an inconvenient object like that to look cool? Idiots." - Anon.
"There’s a certain charm in the idea that one of the most successful post-modern novelists [Paul Auster] holds fast to such anachronistic methods  ... For people above a certain age — Auster was born in 1947 — the act of writing is ideally accompanied by the clacking of the typewriter keys, the bell that sounds at the end of the line, the click-crash of the lever being pushed  as the roller shifts across and up. Nevertheless, there’s also a large part of affectation in remaining faithful to these old technologies — affectation that spills over into the correspondence [with J.M.Coetzee] itself." - Mitchell Abidor
"I'm in the typewriter-for-first-drafts gang. I use a Remington Quiet Riter and I have an old Underwood around here somewhere. I suppose there is a bit of affectation to it, but I really do think I write better on an old manual typewriter. I don't get as distracted, I don't self-edit as much, and I sure as hell enjoy the process more." - Anon
In my post on the brilliant Irish movie Calvary, I referred to The Priest describing The Writer's use of a Royal Arrow portable typewriter in the isolated County Sligo hamlet of Easkey (population 240) as an "affectation". The exiled American replies to this comment by saying his whole life has been an affectation.
The conversation is a warm-hearted one, despite the fact The Priest has come to deliver an old pistol, which The Writer has requested so he can shot himself. And it would seem that no ill-intent was meant by The Priest's casual observation on the use of typewriters. Indeed, as The Priest leaves The Writer's cottage, he offers a fulsome compliment on the M. Emmet Walsh character's writing ability.
There can be no doubt about John Michael McDonagh's assertion here, one that a real scriptwriter can afford to put forward. Using a typewriter does not a writer make; pretending otherwise, to one's self or to others, is affectation, pure and simple. Anyone going through the mere motions of typewriting, and thereby calling themselves a writer, is just kidding themselves. It's the typewritten that counts, not the typewriter.
For all that, the Calvary exchange got me thinking, perhaps for the first time, about this suggestion that some people today do use typewriters as no more than an affectation. A bit ironic, really, since when the typewriter was introduced in 1874, some people considered it was affectatious to type a personal letter instead of handwriting it.
From Law in an Era of Smart Technology, by Susan Brenner (2007)
"Ah to be sure though Father Lavelle, I'm writtin' the great American novel in Sligo in a cursive font, and that ain't affectatious at all, at all ..."
Initially, it was difficult for me to get my head around the notion of pretentious typing, or owning typewriters in order to create the impression of being a writer. 
But then I began to sense, from various requests and encounters, that perhaps such things are more prevalent than I might previously have thought. If there is a consensus to be had from the quotations above, it would be that "hipsters" with typewriters are generally thought to be inclined toward affectation.
Personally I believe I belong to that category outlined in the exchange as one who "grew up typing on them and it's a natural thing ..."
Still, when I first bought a vintage portable typewriter, an Imperial Good Companion at a bric-a-brac shop in Moruya some 14 years ago, my sole intention was to put it on display and not use it. It just looked too good on display and too good to use.
Around 1499 typewriters later, I can safely say that only two - a Torpedo 18 and an Underwood Universal (from an auction in Chicago) - have come into my possession looking so perfect, in such pristine condition, seemingly untouched and unused, that I have been afraid to ever type with them. They have all been displayed, and the other 1498 have all been used. Some more than others, some because they were better to type with than others. Some don't look perfect, but are great to use nonetheless. The more one types, the more one understands typewriters and their foibles, and learns to appreciate them for what joys they all offer.
As I got into my serious collecting, I was guided along the way by Sydney politician Richard Amery.
Richard had a pronounced influence on me and my attitude toward owning and using typewriters in the 21st Century. Richard could be classed as much more a user than a collector, though his collection runs to more than 120 typewriters. More to the point, there is not a single trace of affectation about him. Though he has family connections with Burnley in Lancashire, Richard is quintessentially Australian: laconic, laid back, as honest as the day is long and totally devoid of bull***t. The suggestion that he would seen as affectatious in having and using typewriters in his parliamentary office, his electoral office or at his home, would seem as ridiculous to him as Burnley repeating its 1914 FA Cup final triumph over Liverpool.
To be honest, I don't think I've ever encountered anyone, at least not in person, who uses a typewriter as an affectation, so the idea remains pretty foreign to me, too. What I have encountered, and found decidedly distasteful, are people who express an interest in typewriters, but whose only real interest is in acquiring them to sell at a sizeable profit.
Online encounters with would-be buyers is a different matter. When I am approached by someone who wants a typewriter with a cursive font, and only a cursive font (no other type of typewriter will do) I do find myself wondering. Maybe it's just my prejudice against the cursive font, but it simply doesn't add up for me.
If you handed in a copy written with a cursive font to an editor or Linotype operator, you'd have been told go back and rewrite it on a 'proper' typewriter.
I do try to respond as positively and helpfully as I can to the vast majority of the requests I receive. However, when someone writes asking for typewriters that are specifically: "1. A Olivetti 22 in pink with italic font; 2. A Smith-Corona with vertical scripts font; 3. A Royal with the spencerian font" (I'm not making any of this up, someone really has asked me for help in finding these typewriters) I draw the line. What would other Typospherians make of such a request? My guess is that such bizarre orders are taken first, then typewriters are somehow found to meet them.
But, overwhelmingly, I am left asking myself: What the hell is the Spencerian font??? (Don't answer, I can actually hand write in Spencerian Penmanship. I'm just wondering whether any typewriter has ever been made with a Spencerian font.) Seriously, is this person for real, or just having me on?
A typewriter using Spencerian letters is, I suppose, possible. Just look at these specialised type slugs, some so deep and wide they are cut to fit in beside one another:
One thing I do know for sure. This person is not into typewriters, she's into the affectation of typewriters. And I'm really not interested in going there.


x over it said...

"Spencerian" was the name of a typeface Royal used, in fact Richard's recent mystery typewriter has that exact face.

It really looks nothing like Spencerian script at all though… they were being really fanciful with their naming. (although as far as script fonts on typewriters go, I like it more than most others)

Robert Messenger said...

Thanks for enlightening me on that Nick. I obviously had no idea. I suspect "Ignorance was Bliss". You're right, it's not even close! Call me "old-fashioned" (please), but buy or use a typewriter, I like to find a traditional "typewriter" font.
Last year I went to a great deal of trouble and expense to get a cream Triumph Fraktur. What a stupid waste of time and money! I got rid of it straight away.

Piotr Trumpiel said...

Oh no! What happened to that Corona 3?

Robert Messenger said...

Oh my god! I'd completely forgotten about this. That's two typewriters I've lost track of now, this and an Mercedes Superba. What the hell have I done with it? That's the trouble with having too many I suppose. I will let you know if I find it again.

Robert Messenger said...

Found it! Not in its case, but safe and sound. Thank you Piotr. I got a real fright! Still can't find the Superba, though.

Piotr Trumpiel said...

Phew! You scared me to death in the morning! (Worked better than a coffee) :)

Piotr Trumpiel said...

And Superba can take care of herself - she's a big girl so she'll resurface at some point.
But Corona 3 is like a kitten with big eyes to me - that likes to fold itself and sleep on my lap. (Damn - this made me imagine a paint scheme: golden yellow, a few dark stripes maybe, eyes on the sides of the logo and Garfield's grin of the keyboard...). Kind regards to Charlie though :)

Robert Messenger said...

Yes, Charlie is asleep among the typewriters, but he has something to answer for about the Superba! I do like the analogy of the Corona 3 as a kitten.

toronto guy said...

Typewriters for me equal focus, magnitudes of minutes and hours more focus than staring at a flickering screen, internet-connencted or not, and that's why I love using those "old time" writing machines and that's why I've reverted to working mainly in hard-copy after several years of working exclusively on the computer.

The great thing about it being the year 2014 is that I can hybridize my way of working between digital and hard-copy and modify the proportions of either depending on what gets the job done better for me at the given time. I flip the bird at whatever judgments people make on the way anyone gets their writing work done because the most important thing is the work itself: always the work itself. Hamlet would probably still be Hamlet even if it had been etched in wax crayon.

I would hate to own a cursive script typewriter as it would annoy me to no end, not to mention how my OCR program would be rendered useless. Where I do care about typeface most is when I decide whether I want to work in 12cpi or 10cpi. It's arbitrary most times, but depending on what I want to get done and how I want the copy to look, it can make a difference to me. If there is any oddball or esoteric typeface that I do like using, though, it's that "robot" typeface that Olympia called "Senatorial", Hermes called "Techno", and that IBM called "Polygo". I find this font to be easy on the eyes and something about the technical looking aspect of it just draws me in, or maybe it's just "affect"...

Anonymous said...

I've never met any of the nay-sayers you describe, nor have I met anyone with this kind of "affection." When I wrote my essay "A Steel Symphony," I was forced to give it some thought.

People seem to be much more accepting of our choice of tools if we acknowledge its limitations and add "it's just so much fun."

I find no use in pretending to be a neo-Luddite when I'm really not.

Richard P said...

A significant topic! I do think some adopt typewriters as a pose--which may either fade or blossom into true love. What irks me is the thoughtless assumption that typewriting can ONLY be an affectation. That's just ignorant.

TonysVision said...

Like Richard says, exactly. I would add that we all adopt affectations from time to time; it's part of our lifelong quest to figure out who we are.

Martin A. Rice, Jr. said...

the "hipster" generation would accuse type writer users of affectatious behavior because they themselves are overly concerned with putting on their own affectations. Hence they project their own half-realized behavior onto others.

Miguel Chávez said...

I too grew up using typewriters, though I also belong to the first generation to use personal computers at school, so I have some sort of a mixed background when it comes to typing. But one thing I do know: I like my typewriters a lot. And having typed well over 1,300 pages over the last year and a half, I think I am well beyond the "pose" stage...

... Now, where did I put that adhesive tape? I just made a typo in my non-correcting Selectric III...

Mark said...

I own two script typewriters and would love a Vogue one. I guess it is just nice to have typeface variety in the collection. I suppose I'd never use a fancy typeface machine for anything serious but sometimes I use them to write letters to friends or to entertain myself as I work on my writing. I guess I don't see the problem with wanting very specific machines or typefaces.
I can see where you are coming from though.

Cheyenne Morrison said...

Here is an advert in LIFE Magazine (6 October 1958) showing the typeface as "Royal Spencerian"

Royal copied/modified the typeface used by Olympia in an attempt to offer a way to write personal letters. I am old enough to remember that a typed letter was seen as lazy, and a bit rude; a had written letter was considered good manners. Housewives in the 50s and 60s were taught the emphasis of correspondance, and typewriter companies introduced what is now dubbed CURSIVE typefaces to cater to this market.

Seem now the style has gone full circle, and cursive typewriters are the most sought after.

Bruce G. said...

Very amusing article. I was recently compelled to buy a couple of vintage typewriters. Don't know why really - maybe I just missed using one. When I went to university, a typewriter was all there was to write papers on. I well remember the pain of typing out a page only to make a massive mistake and having to start all over. A typewriter will never replace my computer (unless there's some sort of apocalypse but I'm not counting on that), but I do like to use one to bang out a first draft. I like the sound, smell, and the way the keys feel. I also listen almost exclusively to vinyl LPs, and I use an old school razor that takes double edged blades. Sometimes old tech is just better.