Sunday, 27 February 2011

The Cursiveness of the Pen


I write in longhand, John Barth proclaimed. He went on to proudly declare to George Plimpton of The Paris Review that Anne Tyler and he are perhaps the only two writers who actually write with a fountain pen. Tyler praised the muscular movement of putting down script on the paper as the actual force that gets her imagination going. Barth found that it is in fact the cursiveness of the pen that makes the plot come together - "my sentences in print, as in conversation, tend to go on a while before they stop," he says. The cursiveness of the pen connects one letter to another and one word to the other and there is no gap - it's a stream of consciousness almost this cursiveness of the pen. While typing leaves a space between that and the next character - a space, a paralyzing space that kills the plot.

INTERVIEWER
 Do you think word processors will change the style of writers to come? 
BARTH
They may very well. But I remember a colleague of mine at Johns Hopkins, Professor Hugh Kenner, remarking that literature changed when writers began to compose on the typewriter. I raised my hand and said, “Professor Kenner, I still write with a fountain pen.” And he said, “Never mind. You are breathing the air of literature that’s been written on the typewriter.” So I suppose that my fiction will be word-processed by association, though I myself will not become a green-screener.
John Barth, The Art of Fiction No. 86. Interviewed by George Plimpton, The Paris Review, no. 95, Spring 1985


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