Sunday Book-Thought 123

Founded on faith in the possibility of insight – the Joycean epiphany, the Poundian image that can flash in an instant of time; on faith, too, that technology need not consign the arts to irrelevance, the Modernist enterprise evolved its verbal technologies, its poem- and novel-machines of intricate interacting discrete pieces. The technology on which it drew for tacit analogies is largely obsolescent now: as much so as, say, Dante’s Earth-centered cosmos. The Dublin trams are long gone, and the linotype machine; the typewriter is going; Bloom’s watch with hands will some day need a footnote. Already students need the explanation that when a telephone whirs and a man says ‘Twentyeight. No. Twenty. Double four, yes’ [7.385] he has cranked the magneto and is now requesting a number. That world survives now, like Dante’s world, in art. Its assumptions survive in the structures of its art: complex artifacts we even sometimes take apart for maintenance.
Hugh KennerThe Mechanic Muse (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), pp. 110-111.

Sunday Book-Thought 122

Etaoin Shrdlu affected the linotype operator somewhat, and the newspaper reader slightly, and yet it is an emblem. Its very obsolescence helps lend it status. It recalls, for one thing, a feature of those years, when human behavior, e.g. movements of one’s left little finger, could be inflected by imperatives one needn’t know about. (How many operators knew why ETAOIN had the leftmost keyboard column?) Technology tended to engulf people gradually, coercing behavior they were not aware of. And it altered their world, so much so that an office typist of 1910 could not have imagined how her 1880 counterpart used to spend the day.
Hugh KennerThe Mechanic Muse (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), p. 9.