Saturday, September 10, 2005

Typewriter notes

The Story of My Typewriter, by Paul Auster and Sam Messer, is both a love story and a ghost story. Bittersweet because we know eventually the ribbons will run out, the ink will run dry.

The paintings are brilliantly done, and I am proud of my typewriter for proving itself to be such a worthy subject, but at the same time Messer has forced me to look at my old companion in a new way. I am still in the process of adjustment, but whenever I look at one these paintings now (there are two of them hanging on my living room wall), I have trouble thinking of my typewriter as an it. Slowly but surely, the it has turned into a him.

This slim volume is disappointing because Auster's spare text is so very short. The relationship between the artist and his machine is complicated, their lives intertwined, yet Auster admits he'd never really given it much thought.

(What does it say about me that I've wanted to fetishize objects — pens, notebooks, and, yes, even typewriters — and these particular objects, instruments of writing, instruments of writers, but I could never really get into it. When I realized, as did Auster, that typewriters were fast becoming dinosaurs, I thought it'd be cool to collect them. I bought a few in junk shops, a couple dollars apiece, thought one would serve nicely as a planter, a couple others as bookends or shelf supports. When I moved to the next apartment, they ended up on the curb. Perhaps because I hadn't actually written anything with these machines. But even if I had? Would I see them as anything other than a tool? I've thrown out pencils, ripped up notebooks that had written or contained some brilliant jottings. None ever became a talisman. I've blogged on more than one keyboard, monitor, computer. I prefer some over others as aesthetic objects, and still others as utilitarian ones, but none has ever evoked object lust.

[The only collection of mine that has taken on a life of its own is the bookmarks. But then, I'm a reader, after all.])

The typewriter, as a thing in itself, if it is a muse or catalyst for anyone, inspires Sam Messer. He paints the Olympia both as a ghostly presence and as a visceral monster.

Most interesting are the paintings depicting Auster and Olympia together, the weird hold they have on each other (the kind of relationship only the outsider can identify), how they intrude on and expand each other.

On Sam Messer (with particular attention to "The Wizard of Brooklyn"):
As Messer depicts him, Auster looks like a more robust Kafka — Kafka as a private eye — all dark circles and angst, with a cocked ear the size of a small satellite dish. The head (figuratively speaking) is in one place and the body (which consists of a withered trunk and seven separate hands) in another. One hand, expressionistically elongated, supports his chin, but the others, which are as grasping and acquisitive as claws, lead lives of their own. One stubs out a cigarette while another dials a number on a rotary phone (that other mechanical dinosaur); others type, take notes and smoke; one prepares to lift a glass of whiskey. The page in the typewriter is blank except for the words "The Story of My Typewriter by Paul Auster."


I can't help but be reminded of David Cronenberg's Naked Lunch and all it had to say about the creative process (and the utter shit most writers produce).

No comments: