Sunday, August 25, 2013

John Barth on the Cursiveness of the Pen

I recently discovered a blog on writing instruments, called Palimpsest. In one of the posts, the author reports on John Barth's claims about writing by pen versus writing by typewriter, claiming "My sentences in print, as in conversation, tend to go on a while before they stop: I trace that to the cursiveness of the pen. The idea of typing out first drafts, where each letter is physically separated by a little space from the next letter, I find a paralyzing notion. Good old script, which connects this letter to that, and this line to that—well, that’s how good plots work, right? When this loops around and connects to that ..."

This is, of course, nonsense, strictly speaking. It's not the pen that is cursive, but Barth's hand writing. The most he could say is that the pen allows him to write cursive, while the typewriter does not. And all the claim amounts to is that he has a psychological need to write cursively. If he had been taught writing at a different time, like today, he would not have that need. Would his writing be different? Probably ... Just because his experiences would have been different. How much would the inability to write cursive script have to do with this? I have no idea, and I suppose neither has he. His plots (insofar as they exist) were not destroyed by printing either.

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