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THE MUSES OF INSERT, DELETE AND EXECUTE

UMD English professor examines the history of word processing in a recent lecture and a book set to publish in 2013.

By Jennifer Schuessler, The New York Times

The literary history of the typewriter has its well-established milestones, from Mark Twain producing the first typewritten manuscript with “Life on the Mississippi” to Truman Capote famously dismissing Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road,” pounded out on a 120-foot scroll, with the quip “That’s not writing, that’s typing.”
Matthew G. Kirschenbaum, a professor of English, asks, “Who was the first novelist to use a word processor?”
 
The literary history of word processing is far murkier, but that isn’t stopping Matthew G. Kirschenbaum, an associate professor of English at the University of Maryland, from trying to recover it, one casual deletion and trashed document at a time.

Pay no attention to the neatly formatted and deceptively typo-free surfaces of the average Microsoft Word file, Mr. Kirschenbaum declared at a recent lunchtime lecture at the New York Public Library titled “Stephen King’s Wang,” a cheeky reference to that best-selling novelist’s first computer, bought in the early 1980s.

“The story of writing in the digital age is every bit as messy as the ink-stained rags that would have littered Gutenberg’s print shop or the hot molten lead of the Linotype machine,” Mr. Kirschenbaum said, before asking a question he hopes he can answer: “Who were the early adopters, the first mainstream authors to trade in their typewriters for WordStar and WordPerfect?”

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Date of Publication: 
12/25/11