Wednesday, September 7, 2011
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.
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.