Saturday, July 23, 2005

On handwriting and typing

W.H. Auden, from "Writing":

Most people enjoy the sight of their own handwriting as they enjoy the smell of their own farts. Much as I loathe the typewriter, I must admit that it is a help in self-criticism. Typescript is so impersonal and hideous to look at that, if I type out a poem, I immediately see defects which I missed when I looked through it in manuscript. When it comes to a poem by somebody else, the severest test I know of is to write it out in longhand. The physical tedium of doing this ensures that the slightest defect will reveal itself; the hand is constantly looking for an excuse to stop.
[From The Dyer's Hand and Other Essays (1962).]

Funny that in our time typing (or "word-processing") seems to mask defects--everything looks so slick, so finished, so right. To paraphrase Alexander Pope, our attitude about "word-processed" text seems to be that "Whatever is in Times New Roman, is right." Thus it is that teachers of writing often recommend printing a draft in an unfamiliar and unpretty font, so that the text it loses its fine appearance and becomes more readily subject to revision. (Try printing in Courier New and see what I mean).

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