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Materiality is where — is how — our knowing begins

WordStar fit. It complemented Martin in the same way, perhaps, as Jack Kerouac’s famous typing of On the Road on a 120-foot roll of paper or Auster’s cigarettes and Olympia typewriter. “The best writers,” concludes Torn McCarthy, “have always understood that to write is to both grapple with, and to some extent, allegorize the very regime of technological mediation without which writing wouldn’t exist in the first place.” The technological regime McCarthy is speaking of here is writing’s interface, by which I mean not only what is literally depicted on a screen (menus, icons, and windows) but also an interface in the fuller sense of a complete, embodied relationship between a writer and his or her writing materials-the stance and poise and “feel” invoked by William Dickey. In other words, McCarthy is speaking of what we earlier termed materiality, the materiality of both word processing and of writing more generally. This materiality often has implications for interpretation, and it always has implications for preservation and documentation, for history and for memory. This is the scholar’s art. But materiality also grounds us. It demystifies. Materiality is where — is how — our knowing begins.

Matthew G. Kirschenbaum, Track Changes: A Literary History of Word Processing. Harvard UP, 2016. (Tumblr)