I’m looking forward to checking out Matthew Kirschenbaumâ€™s upcoming book, â€œTrack Changes: A Literary History of Word Processingâ€ — among other things, it’s fun to think about the mix of authors that come up when talking about the literary history of word processing (including the likes of Mark Twain, Henry James, and Bram Stoker).
But maybe the most interesting bit of information from the article was about Stephen King —
“Mr. Kingâ€™s 1983 short story â€œThe Word Processor,â€ Mr. Kirschenbaum ventured, is â€œlikely the earliest fictional treatment of word processing by a prominent English-language author.â€
The story, published in Playboy (later retitled â€œWord Processor of the Godsâ€), certainly captured the unsettling ghostliness of the new technology, which allowed writers to correct themselves without leaving even the faintest trace. In the story a frustrated schoolteacher discovers that by erasing sentences about his enemies he can delete them entirely from the universe and insert himself in their place, a reflection of Mr. Kingâ€™s fascination with his Wang System 5â€™s â€œinsert,â€ â€deleteâ€ and â€œexecuteâ€ keys, recounted in the introduction to his 1985 story collection, â€œSkeleton Crew.â€ â€œWriters are used to playing God, but suddenly now the metaphor was literal,â€ Mr. Kirschenbaum said in the lecture.”
Studying the means (mechanical, digital, etc.) by which literature is produced is an incredibly interesting topic. And I especially appreciated this nifty bit of Nietzsche trivia:
“The study of word processing may sound like a peculiarly tech-minded task for an English professor, but literary scholars have become increasingly interested in studying how the tools of writing both shape literature and are reflected in it, whether itâ€™s the quill pen of the Romantic poets or the early round typewriter, known as a writing ball, that Friedrich Nietzsche used to compose some aphoristic fragments. (â€œOur writing tools are also working on our thoughts,â€ Nietzsche typed.)”
Nietzsche even wrote a poem about his writing ball —
By the way — did this article remind anyone else of Foucault’s Pendulum?