Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Iris Murdoch on Longhand, Typewriters and Word Processors

Iris Murdoch wrote twenty-four novels. Each one was "written in longhand and taken up to her publishers in London in a capacious paper bag by the author herself. 'Longhand, yes,' she said. 'I have never touched a typewriter, and still less a word processor. It is natural I should take it up myself. It's the only copy, after all.' Once handed over, her novels are printed as written, unedited." (From The New York Times)

Like Heidegger, she thought writing by hand possessed a "particular closeness."

She is also supposed to have said: "The word processor is... a glass square which separates one from one's thoughts and gives them a premature air of completeness."

All I can say is: This is not my experience, but then I have never experienced this kind of "completeness" even after my stuff is published. I am never satisfied, and have good reasons never to be satisfied (as Iris Murdoch could be). It's a moral failing!


Anonymous said...

Who am I to quibble with an accomplished author? However, I often think that those writers who eschew computers for writing are probably just rationalizing a fear of technology. For them writing long-hand works because they'd be paralyzed at a computer keyboard. For the rest of us, computers (i.e. word processors) are a god send. I remember banging out papers on an old Royal manual typewriter in my college days (mid 1970s), dealing with coerasable bond and white out. That was just torture. I often think whistfully to how much more I would have enjoyed college, writing and research had I had even the most basic of computer applications at my disposal -- a plain text editor like NoteTab would have been a miracle!

MK said...

I could not agree more. An IBM Selectric, which allowed you (me) to correct typos was an unfulfilled dream for me in 1979.

Somebody then mentioned a dedicated "word processor." When I asked how much? Oh, about $10,000.00. The first college I worked at let me use their IBM Display Writer ... at night ...

Anonymous said...

Paying $10,000 for a word processor would probably make me fear technology too! Although I paid over $5000 for one of those "portable" Compaqs around 1983 or 84.