Saturday, July 30, 2016

Iris Murdoch on Word Processors (Again)

Iris Murdoch claimed that: "The word processor is... a glass square which separates one from one's thoughts and gives them a premature air of completeness". She also asked how anyone could possibly write with "a machine between you and the page". She insisted that she preferred "the particular closeness" of writing by hand.[1]

Strictly speaking, these three claims are false. A word processor is not "a glass square." And typing is just as much a use of the hand as writing longhand. And the pen or pencil and paper may be much simpler implements than a keyboard, but it can come "between you and your page" just as much as the keyboard or the screen. Ever written with a defective pen? Ever been blocked by an empty page? I have no doubt that these claims report her subjective experience, but I do find it rather doubtful that they are true for every writer. In any case, as I have said before, her claims to not accord with my experience.

Elias Canetti, who called Murdoch "an Oxford Ragout" and characterized her novels as "Oxford gossip," found that she "never had to suffer for the need of having to write."[2] He also thought that she was an unthinking eclectic. I am beginning to suspect he was right. What separated her from her thoughts was not a glass screen but her "slavish" adherence to Wittgenstein.

1. See alsso Murdoch on Longhand.
2. See Elias Canetti, (2005) Party im Blitz. Die englischen Jahre. Frankfurt/Main: Fischer Verlag

No comments: