The Sensual Machine: ‘The Typewriter Revolution’

Richard Polt’s work is simply a confessional love letter to a most charming and pioneering creation.

When I was nine years of age, I would spend hours chicken-pecking out a story on my mother’s electric typewriter, which we kept in the basement. The key for the letter L didn’t work properly, so sometimes when I was typing away it would jam and stick. What would follow would be the hideous, repetitive clacking of a single letter, which would soon fill the entire page with L’s. There was no way to turn it off, save for unplugging the machine. Thus, my story would be ruined.

Later, when my parents divorced and we moved, I’d found an old Remington typewriter tucked behind the piping in the storage space of our new house. It looked like it was falling apart, but I kept it and stored it away, where it continues to collect dust to this day. In the wake of digital technology, I suppose typewriters have become an afterthought. But Richard Polt’s The Typewriter Revolution reacquaints me with the romance of these simple but extraordinary machines.

Today, typewriters have become something of a meme amongst “hipster” circles; their use seems impractical by modern technology standards, but the machinery proves a fascinating lure for a few millennials, as Polt’s book is often keen to point out. His book, however, digs deeper into the practicality, necessity and one-time dominance of this writerly contraption that has defined the works of many past generations. Tracing the history of the typewriter, Polt discusses everything from the machine’s entrance into the workforce, its influence in music and film and the many small, current, social movements that are being aided by this chattering device.

Keeping the tone light, Polt produces an engaging and personalized dissertation on the fascination with typewriters and his book is fashioned like a montage of essays, tidbits and historical facts. In the DIY aestheticism of The Typewriter Revolution (which lends heavily to the nature of the typewriter itself), the author manages an artful study on antiquated mediums long put to rest. In one chapter, Polt coaches typewriter newbies (and reacquaints older users) on the maintenance, techniques and proper usage of the machine.

He goes on to discuss how such a machine promotes a restricted world in which the writer can function sans the outwardly distractions that have infiltrated a writer’s life. It’s a most appreciated and astute point — and probably the thematic nucleus of this entire book. Typewriters indeed (more than 100 years after their invention) offer this sort of crucial magic that has been, understandably, overlooked in the wake of computers and the internet.

Some portions of the book seem rather trivial, like the section on personalizing your typewriter by painting or decorating it. Such trifles sometimes relegate the overall work to a target group consisting of mainly those of “hipster” extraction. But Polt manages a convincing argument on why the typewriter still continues to live on (albeit in a world all of its own). He does a marvelous job of interpreting the almost sensual interaction with the machine, examining every possible facet that might enlighten his readers.

The book is filled with various typesets, photographs, trivia and in-depth readings on one of the most practical and necessary inventions that helped to further the development of literary language. For those who continue to have writing relationships via the typewriter, Polt’s work is simply a confessional love letter to a most charming and pioneering creation.

RATING 7 / 10