Literature

Antiquing for Writing

By Stephen Maouyo • April 1, 2010 at 1:49 pm


If you’ve watched a sitcom any time since the inception of that genre of television, you must be well assured that men are relatively boorish creatures, that they are all blunt to subtlety and prone to think only about sports, alcohol, and sex (mental processes most likely achieved with the—ahem—little head). And while I take offense, in varying degrees, to all of the above characterizations, the notion that men are generally preoccupied with owning the most newfangled pieces of technology (anywhere from lawnmowers to electronics) is the one with which I struggle most to find argument against. I would be amiss to say that it’s only men. As an individual in our culture, one continually enters into caring relationships with products that are the newest, fastest, smallest, etc., only to become jilted and discontent with yesterday’s news, moving on to the next inanimate lover.

However, as it happens, every movement or status quo necessitates an “anti-,” each mutually dependent on the struggle against the other (a battle and symbiosis best seen in “Antiques Roadshow,” which would be more aptly named “Appraisers who care about antiques versus people trying to make some cash”). One niche in the current out-with-the-new, in-with-the-old culture? Typewriters.

I first sought a part in this niche this past summer, buying a typewriter, a 1906 Royal 1, for $5 on eBay, with every intent to fix and use the behemoth. Difficulties ensued and it sat stagnant on my desk for months, ranking among the world’s coolest, largest, and heaviest paperweights. Over winter break, I brought it to Cambridge Typewriter, the only typewriter shop in the greater Boston area, where I was promptly informed that my typewriter was out of commission. Undaunted, I promptly bought a beautiful, mint-condition 1941 Remington Streamliner, afraid that if I waited, it would disappear. Due to the resurgence in the popularity of typewriters and with the relatively small number of specimens in good condition, I felt I had to immediately buy the one I fell in love with; also, I was warned that it’d be gone within the week.

But why own or carry around a heavy, loud, antiquated system (besides the attention) when laptops and are so small and tidy? For me, a typewriter is a functional art piece, more attractive than today’s standard laptop, whose clean and pleasant visage becomes more of a cold metallic indifference when faced with a polished, clean, intricate typewriter. And the ability to understand the process by which pressing a button yields a letter, seeing those levers and hooks go to work, is so much more personal than the comparatively unfathomable microchip. The clack of the keys, the “Ding!” reminding you to return the carriage brings you in to the writing process more than the quiet pip of computer processing. And although there is more disconnect than one would experience with pen and paper, the quality and cleanliness of the finished product more than compensates.

But moreover, there’s permanence in a typewritten note. Each key-stroke must be carefully thought and carried out; each mistake requires a fresh piece of paper. It’s frustrating at times, but the words produced by a typewriter carry a weight of deliberation and foresight lacking in our more electronic productions. Each advance in efficiency and convenience tempts the senses toward sloth and carelessness, an enticement that encompasses words and language as well. You might call typewriters part of the resistance.




Responses

  1. Ah Stephen, you’re almost there. Now type up something with one of those machines (and be warned, more will follow), photograph or scan the results, and then you too can be a card-carrying member of the Typosphere, population a baker’s dozen and growing. Check out Strikethru.net for one of our “hubs”, and welcome to the fold!