The bitter charm of the typewriter

Por: Gabriel García Márquez

When technology is entrenched by a power that, clearly, allows for faster and… better?, it is worth evoking the travel companions of many writers: the typewriters. Because while today’s computers have even replaced in remembrance the galloping sound of those great ladies full of keyboards, their subtle charm still enchants when we discovered them complete owners of a sheet on which Gabriel García Marquez launched his imagination. The following excerpts are part of an article published in the Cuban newspaper Juventud Rebelde, on December 13, 1987.

It is not often that typed writers do so with all the rules of typing, which is as difficult as playing the piano well. The only one I have known capable of typing with all my fingers and without looking at the keyboard, was the unforgettable Eduardo Zalamea Borda, in the writing of El Espectador in Bogota, who could also answer questions without altering the rhythm of his virtuous fingering. The opposite end is that of Carlos Fuentes, who writes only with the index of the right hand. When he smoked, he would write with one hand and hold the cigarette with the other, but now that he doesn’t smoke, it’s not known for sure what he’s doing with his leftover hand. One wonders astonished how his index finger could survive unscathed to the nearly 2,000 pages of his novel Terra nostra.
In general, machine writers do it with both indexes, and some looking for the lyrics on the keyboard, just as the hens dig up the yard looking for the hidden worms. Its originals are often riddled with amendments and crosses, and at one time they were the horror of the linotypists, who so many useful secrets of the craft taught us in youth, and which today have been replaced by the beautiful typists of photographic composition, who wished to teach us also so many other appetizing secrets of old age. Some originals were so difficult to decipher, that many writers had to always be entrusted to a headliner who knew their personal hieroglyphics thoroughly. I was one of those writers, but not because of the intricateness of my originals, but because of my spelling disasters, of which I am not yet safe in these times of glory.
The worst thing is that when you become an essential typist it is already impossible to write otherwise, and mechanical writing ends up being our true calligraphy. To the point where science is needed to interpret a writer’s character by alternatives to the pressure he puts on the keyboard. In my time as a juvenile reporter, I wrote at any time and in any of the Paleolithic machines of newspaper writing, and in the one-metre quartets that cut off leftover paper in the rotary. Half of my first novel was written on that paper in the fiery and smelly early mornings of printing at the newspaper El Universal de Cartagena, but then I continued it on the back of customs bulletins that were printed on rough, full-bodied paper. That was the first mistake; since then I can only write on paper like that: white, rough and 36 grams. Then I had the misery of knowing an electric machine that was not only more fluid, but seemed to help me think; I could never use a conventional machine again.
Time aggravated things: now I can only write on an electric machine, always of the same brand, with the type of the same measure and without a single stumble, because even the slightest typing error hurts my soul as a mistake of creation. It is not uncommon, then, that the only painting I have in front of the desk where I write is the poster of a typewriter smashed by a truck in the middle of the road. What joy! Ω

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