Saturday, December 5, 2009

A Sort of Talismanic Quality

Cormac McCarthy's old typewriter, on which he composed all of his novels, recently sold for $245,500 at auction. The rare-book dealer who handled the auction had this to say.

When I grasped that some of the most complex, almost otherworldly fiction of the postwar era was composed on such a simple, functional, frail-looking machine, it conferred a sort of talismanic quality to Cormac’s typewriter. It’s as if Mount Rushmore was carved with a Swiss Army knife.

I like this comment, although it's actually kind of ridiculous if you think about it: the idea that fiction composed on a computer would necessarily be any more innovative or unusual than fiction composed on a typewriter—or by hand, for that matter. It's actually not at all as if Mount Rushmore were carved with a Swiss Army knife. All those sentences still had to be formed by McCarthy's mind, regardless of how they were transmitted to the page; the invention, composition, arrangement, and revision evident in works like
Blood Meridian and Suttree would no less stunning if the manuscripts had been produced on computer, and no more so if they'd been written with a No. 2 pencil.

***UPDATE*** Over at the Book Bench, Thessaly La Force writes about the same comment, taking issue with the aspersions it seems to cast on the typewriter itself.

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