Sunday Book-Thought 62

The classicist Eric Havelock and the psychologist David Olson assert the thought-provoking hypothesis that the efficiency of the Greek alphabet led to an unparalleled transformation in the actual content of thought. By liberating people from the effort required by an oral tradition, the alphabet’s efficient “stimulated the thinking of novel thought.”
Try to imagine a situation in which the educated members of an oral culture had to depend entirely on personal memorization and meta-cognitive strategies to preserve their collective knowledge. Such strategies, however impressive, came with a cost. Sometimes subtly, sometimes blatantly, dependence on rhythm, memory, formulas, and strategy constrained what could be said, remembered, and created.
Maryanne WolfProust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2007), p. 65.


Sunday Book-Thought 51

The reality, of course, is that every writer’s individual habits and practices are deeply personal and idiosyncratic, and it is difficult, if not impossible, to extract patterns in support of generalizable conclusions – beyond the intense intimacy and commitment that the act of writing invariably demands. Some writers dictate aloud. Some write longhand and then type their work on a typewriter or computer. Some compose at the keyboard but then print out their work for handwritten revision. Others don’t need the hard copy. Some writers print everything out, mark it up, and then retype it themselves. Others hand it off to an assistant. A few still revise by (literally) copying and pasting strips of text. Some writers find the computer alienating, intimidating. Others see it as an intimate, profoundly unmediated experience. Some writers value the slowness of the pen. Some value the speed of the keyboard. Some chafe at the labor of retyping, others embrace it. Some writers are enamored by the small rituals of the process, the changing of the worn-out ribbon, the bright bell of the carriage return. Others are unsentimental. Some writers require an absolutely specific instrument – or setting, or time of day, or slant of light, just so. Others write on anything and everything, anytime, anywhere. Work your way through “The Art of Fiction” and its kindred features in the Paris Review – what George Steiner, in his own “Art of Criticism” interview, describes as “the largest collection of insight into this of any publication” – and you can find accounts describing all of these and more. The one inescapable conclusion is that our instruments of composition, be they a Remington or a Macintosh, all serve to focalize and amplify our imagination of what writing is.
Matthew G. KirschenbaumTrack Changes: A Literary History of Word Processing (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2016), pp. 22-23.