Writing and a Writer’s Identity

Monday, February 17th, 2014 by lola192

Printed text is often considered to be temporally and spatially bound, constrained to the perspectives it conveys or the place within which it exists. Depending on the reader’s ability to readily identify these perspectives or places, they either find themselves closely connected to text or distanced from it. To quote Richard McCabe,“Time, like distance, determines and alters perspectives”. Furthermore, standardised, printed texts tend to be bound by their reliance upon the popular opinion of what is publishable versus what is not – publication creates a normative temporal space within which the published item can exist. As a result of these limitations, standardised texts become restricted texts where “writing and soul fall apart” (Kittler). If we accept Friedrich Kittler’s assumption that standardised texts facilitate the crumbling of the relationship between writing and soul, then can understand these texts as posing a threat to the relationship between writing and the identity of the writer?

Think of handwriting. Handwriting exposes truths. It is handwriting’s elucidatory quality that enables it to possess its maker’s identity – “I’m ashamed of my handwriting. It exposes me in all my spiritual nakedness. My handwriting shows me more naked than I am with no clothes off. No leg, no breath, no clothes, no sound. Neither voice nor reflection. All cleaned out….His lines are all that’s left of him” (Kittler). Unlike printed or manufactured manuscripts, handwritten text embodies identity. Dickens strongly believed that you could never erase the self from handwriting. Rather, handwriting should be understood as something pure and unbreakable, essential to the understanding of self. If handwriting is indicative of a person’s identity, then handwritten texts are representative of their writer’s humanity for “(human) Being is in the hand” (Goldberg). In Gramophone, Film, Typewriter, Kittler reinforces the idea that human identity and Being is present within handwriting. Kittler asserts the invention of the typewriter removed identity from the both the writing process and its resultant final product. When a writer uses a typewriter in place of a pen in his hand, they erase any trace of an identifiable self typically inherent within their own handwritten words.  Despite it functioning as a simple mediating step between the human hand and the page, the typewriter rendered handwriting utterly “autonomous” (Kittler). Additionally, Kittler maintains that by erasing the self from writing, typewriters relegated text to an unimaginative, restricted temporal sphere – readers would no longer be able to conjure fantasy from the words they read. For Kittler, “typewriters do not store individuals; their letters do not communicate a beyond that perfectly alphabetized readers can subsequently hallucinate as meaning…The dream of a real visible or audible world arising from words has come to an end” (Kittler).

If standardised, printed texts cause the crumbling of the relationship between writing and identity, then what is to be said of the relationship between writing and identity when we think of any generation of word processor? Of typing on a keyboard that uses something more than ink (I’m thinking here of the typewriter’s means for placing a barrier between the writing and the writer) as a mediatory between the writer and the work they produce? Or, do word processors and new means of writing and sharing the results offer us, as writers, new frontiers and greater freedoms? If so, are they allowing a more fluid identity to emerge within the act of writing?

I will be going into the MAL this evening to play around on some word processers to investigate my own question; to see if I agree that any writing beyond that done with my own hand renders me (as writer) absent. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

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2 comments on “Writing and a Writer’s Identity

  1. contromal says:

    Lola, I think you bring up a great point, which I started to think about during my blog post. If there is such a thing as a “best” state of media, have we (as humans) already used it and disposed of it? Was writing with a quill the best it was ever going to get for writers? As Zielinski reminds us “The current state of the art does not necessarily represent the best possible state” (7).

    – Renee

  2. lola192 says:

    Renee, you put it so much more eloquently than I managed to 🙂 I worry that in questioning the seeming abandonment of handwriting I’m falling down the nostalgia rabbit hole, so to speak, or if there’s merit to considering the consequences.

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