There’s been a strange glut of news around Cormac McCarthy auctioning off his typewriter for charity. It seems to have fascinated every (but me). Perhaps this is because the typewriter itself seems to have garnered some archetypal importance to the process for a certain generation of both writers AND readers. Me? If I can’t copy and paste, I ain’t using it. Me? If I can’t copy and paste, I ain’t using it. Me? If I can’t copy and paste, I ain’t using it. Me? If I can’t copy and paste, I ain’t using it.
Isaac Bashevis Singer wrote for more than four decades on an Underwood portable. For him, his machine was a kind of first editor. “If this typewriter doesn’t like a story, it refuses to work,” he said. “I don’t get a man to correct it since I know if I get a good idea the machine will make peace with me again. I don’t believe my own words saying this, but I’ve had the experience so many times that I’m really astonished. But the typewriter is 42 years old. It should have some literary experience, it should have a mind of its own.”
There is still a sense of urgency about the writing that scrolls off the platen of a typewriter. At The Times we occasionally use a typeface called Typeka: a slightly broken-up old typewriter face that looks like the letters might have come off Cormac McCarthy’s battered machine. And yet those letterforms somehow convey an immediacy — in pullout quotes or strips of bulletin text. Born only in the late-19th century, the typewriter has entered our literary cellular memory.