Table and Chair, Pen and Paper, Text and Time, by Helga Schmid

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Helga Schmid

Helga Schmid

Helga Schmid

Helga Schmid

Helga Schmid

Helga Schmid

Helga Schmid

The typewriter tears writing from the essential realm of the hand, i.e., the realm of the word. The word itself is turned into something 'typed'.

-Martin Heidegger, Parmenides, translated by Andre Schuwer and Richard Rojceeicz, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992, p. 81.

Table and chair; pen and paper; text and time: an exploration of handwriting. Everything goes faster and faster, though sometimes not. I want to talk about slowness in a sense—that it doesn’t matter how long it takes to make or to do something. Slow time or fast time, it’s about quality time. My goal is to expand a state of awareness, accountability for daily actions, and the potential for a richer spectrum of experience for individuals and communities through the example of handwriting.

-Helga Schmid.

I've stumbled upon Helga Schmid's project, Table and Chair, Pen and Paper, Text and Time, on a few blogs, including Amy's All the Mountains. Each time I saw it, I made a footnote in my mind to return to it. Today, I find myself unable to contain some thoughts this project has brought up for me.

What I find particularly interesting about her project is the manner in which it both echoes and engages independently with some of the concerns that have been raised over the past few decades regarding the role of technology in our lives. One of the key debates which shapes such concerns is 'old' versus 'new' technology. It is now nostalgic to look at images of typewriters, and they proliferate on blogs and tumblr as symbols of a more individualised mode of writing when compared with laptops and iphones. Hey, I've used such an image on my blog below. And yet, quite ironically, when the typewriter was invented, it was met with a wall of moral panic by many writers who felt it would displace the more 'authentic' art of handwriting. The hand, connected to the body, was a symbol of individuality and subjective artistry, while the typewriter was seen as an alienating mechanism that distanced writing from the author.

New technology is almost always greeted with some form of romanticising of the past and debates about how it will displace older forms of expression. Handwriting has not been immune to this. The act of handwriting was not always seen as a form of individual artistic expression, it used to be just a way to transmit data and information amongst those who were lucky enough to be literate. Painting, opera, dance, and the like, were arguably more dominant as modes of artistic expression. As the function of writing has changed historically, we have come to associate it with a highly venerated mode of self-expression. It's a form of self-expression that I participate in, yet I'm also aware of its historical beginnings, and I don't take it for granted.

That's what I love about Helga Schmid's project: it reminds us of the function of writing and handwriting in our culture today and it compels us not to take it for granted. While I have no problem with utilising modern technology (and I view it as a good thing), I'd like to think it can sit side-by-side with my pen and paper. There is something to be said for the sensual experience of handwriting; it doesn't just reveal the personal quirks in people's different styles of writing, but it also reminds me of the fact that writing occurs through texture rather than simply through thought. The feel of paper beneath my hand is so different from the feel of my laptop as I type. Similarly, handwriting forces you to slow down because it is more time-consuming and difficult. And on a week like this one, where my laptop has died on me, I'm grateful for the security of my notebooks. Not to worry, everything was backed up, and I'm now writing on a shiny new laptop. It'll just take me a while to respond to your lovely comments as I'm transferring all my files, emails, etc. to the new laptop, and it's taking forever. Sigh, perhaps a pen and paper is the answer ...

I'd love to hear other thoughts about this project as I'm sure I've only just scratched the surface of it here.

All images are from here and are copyrighted to Helga Schmid. Visit her website here.


Nancy Baric *negfilm said...


Enia Is (Almost) Here said...

as i commented to nathan on twitter, new technologies change use of existing ones, they don't completely destroy them (as you say type writer is case in point)... and of course we use different ones for different things i.e. typing on modern computers to speak to each other and in my case pen and paper to speak to myself each evening as i reflect back :) it is an important thing to consider... thank you for sharing your thoughts.

Caitlin Rose said...

That's an interesting project. I know that my own mother continues to do all of her writing (she's a writer) on paper then transfers it to her laptop.

I've never been any good at expressing myself through the written word, so perhaps the idea of writing things on paper then transferring it to a laptop just seems inefficient to me. But when I was in school I definitely found it difficult to stay on microsoft word while writing essays about the racial demographics of detroit in the 80's. I could imagine that having a pen and paper would isolate you more, make it more about you and the writing.

Anyway, I wonder if in the future they'll have machines that take thoughts right out of our brains and we'll feel nostalgic for the light tapping of our fingers on shiny mac books.

Tana said...

Find the project amazing! love particulary helga schmid's quote about 'slowness in a sense and quality time'

Jane Flanagan said...

I love this.

From a brain standpoint something quite different can happen with continuous writing versus typing. Handwriting stimulates idea-generation in a way that's quite unique.

I'm like you - I do both. I always love a notebook page. feels so open concept! said...

I just LOVE all those pictures!

Sally said...

I still feel driven to write in a notebook by hand each night. My day planner is a paper notebook. At work, we must still copyedit by hand. I wonder if we're at the very tail-end of a generation who feels they can only think right when drawing things out on paper! (Future kids may have no trouble editing papers on the computer, etc.) It just feels like a different brian process or something.

hila said...

nancy: I know, so lovely! particularly the pastel tones (aesthetically speaking).

enia: I agree, I'm not sure the logic of new replacing old always applies so neatly - the function of things change as our society changes, it doesn't mean they always disappear.

caitlin rose: ha, can you imagine feeling nostalgic for a mac? :)

tana: me too, that was my favourite part.

jane flanagan: I do both, but you're right, certain ideas materialise differently through pen and paper. For example, writing poetry is so easy for me with a pen and paper, but feels stunted on my laptop. Still, I don't romanticise this process too much, because I know I would be lost without my laptop - it makes writing more efficient and manageable.

calamity-physics: me too, they're magical.

sally: I don't think we're the last generation to think this way, I guess I'm not that fatalistic :)