Friday, 2 June 2000

From "Modernity, labour and the typewriter"

By Morag Shiach.

In his analysis of the discourse network of 1900, however, Kittler stresses the precariousness of meaning: this precariousness is expressed through an understanding of writing as fragment, as a moment of order against a background of chaos. For Kittler, writing becomes detached from subjectivity in this period and is no longer experienced as the expression of an inner self. Instead it is experienced and understood as a recalcitrant material substance, as impersonal, as constantly threatening repetition and meaninglessness.

In this theorisation of modernism, the typewriter plays a key role. It is a form of writing that severs the link between the eye, the hand and the text. It mechanises the act of writing and destroys the illusion of an immediate link between language and the self. As David Wellbery sums up Kittler's argument: "In order for this detachment of writing from subjectivity to occur, however, inscription had to become mechanized, and this happens with the typewriter" [...] The typewriter thus becomes the archetypal modernist technology, staging language as process, as structure, as apart from the self. And this technology has a particular significance for women in Kittler's account. He sees the typewriter as disrupting the epistemological and affective link between writing and the mother's voice. He also sees the erosion of the authority of the author as opening up a space for women's writings. Finally he connects the typewriter to new educational opportunities and new patterns of labour for women: "Apart from Freud' it was Remington who 'granted the female sex access to the office.'"

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