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If Emily had used a word processor

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Here I crouch over my home computer, haunted by Charles Dickens's inkstand. It was on display in a New York literary exhibition not long ago. So were the old Underwood typewriter used by E. E. Cummings and the Hermes portable used by a poet of a later generation, Sylvia Plath.

What about the writers of the computer generation? Will their Apples, IBMs, or whatever be preserved for posterity?

My first guess is no. But then I'm not so sure.

Would anyone in the handwriting generations of the past have supposed that an author's typewriter would be put on exhibition? Too impersonal. No individuality. Just a mass-produced machine for printing. Typing says nothing compared with the copperplate penmanship of Author A or the wretched, crabbed hand of Author B.

What if Emily Dickinson had used a typewriter? For one thing, there could not have been all our latter-day dating of her manuscripts by how she wrote the letter d at different periods.

Yet there has come to be something human about typewriters. At least I am rather taken with the notion that Cummings, whose strange patterns of verse fairly fizz on the page, sat down to a foursquare upright like the one I was given by an old Marine Corps buddy from Maine. And that Plath called forth her dark muse on an almost playful little Hermes like the one I carried in my luggage for years.

So far I have not happened to hear of a famous writer using a Kaypro II portable computer like the creature with the large green eye that is clicking and whirring before me now. But I am beginning to imagine that the crowds at a literary exhibition of the future might possibly be shown one author's rather formidable office Decmate and another's lightweight carry-on. They would sagely speculate on why the former chose a machine designed so that the typing is always done on the lowest line of the video screen. Or why the latter, like Sylvia Plath, chose a smaller machine, with all its pluses and minuses.


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