Thursday, 17 March 2016

The Language of Natives

My love of literature is born of an earlier time; a time that is now hopelessly outdated and yet romanticised, modernised in keeping with our digital age. A model I disapprove of but which apparently makes reprints of Classics much more accessible to the average reader.
Who is the average modern reader? Obviously one that cannot use their hands to thumb through pages; the pages turned with a swipe on a screen that flickers so quickly the eye fails to register its moth-like movements. A reader who has forgotten or not learned to use the once fashionable tool of the writer's trade: a pen, and who knows not how to hold or write with it. Or perhaps when shown then demonstrates a very poor, illegible hand. It's the contemporary equivalent of not knowing which knife and fork to use. Outside in.
A screen and keyboard is the present-day writer's instrument; before this it was the typewriter. There are no ink-smudged or crippled fingers, though you can get RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury); no crossing out of words, sentences or whole paragraphs, no torn up, crumpled up pages from writer's rages when it's not working out, because for that there's the Delete button. The unnecessary plot entanglements swiftly obliterated. And of course there's spell check, the red wavy line that appears under anything that's misspelled or appears dubious to the computer's brain, which for a perfectionist can be an annoyance when you know in this case you're right. It's like a teacher correcting your work who misinterprets your meaning and notes criticisms in the margin. The work you considered polished now tarnished.
I have, as many writers have, paid or otherwise, succumbed to technology. I find my writing flows if I type on a screen, but in not real time, not live as I know others do. Straight onto a online forum, with no amendment to their verbal diarrhoea. Vomiting it out with no self-censorship. My approach is slower: I draft and edit, form and re-form my thoughts on a screen document which I save and re-visit many times until I'm finished or satisfied. Only then does it get my seal of approval to be stored with the other completed pieces which may one day be published. Or they may just gather dust in a folder which years from now will be found on a memory stick.
And yet though I favour this mode of writing behaviour, I still use a pen. Everyday. Sometimes my pieces start out that way. The flow is different or better suits the mood of the work. With some people I still converse by letter: writing on sheets of paper before sealing them in an addressed envelope, and then posting to the intended recipient. I explain for those who do not know what this is or how it's done. Writing, actually writing, rather than typing is more organic. The way your hand forms words sparks a part that I feel computer-trained areas of the brain cannot access. Something older, a fossil of our evolution. And it's just nice to have a physical example or reminder of someone's actual writing: they held the implement and with it made those indelible ink strokes. And their style is individual, attributable only to them, as is their voice or physical mannerisms. The very things we love, the very things we remember.
But where would we be now without the computer? That's what the majority of people say, applying that same attitude to anything that the advancement of technology brings. I don't know, but I wonder...
Even I wasn't taught about or how to use the semi-colon and I overuse the comma; a fault I'm aware of but can't stop. And I frequently experience difficulties in knowing how to sound out an unfamiliar word: I need to hear someone else say it first, and so apologies for getting someone's name wrong are a standard embarrassing occurrence. But I love to learn and I want the challenge of antiquated language. I want to acquire the meaning of disused words so I can stash them away for future use, bring them back into circulation.
I don't want to read a novel that exists in a cloud, a space where solid form and physical touch has been made redundant. And I want to read the text as the author penned it without the corrections and standardisations to our modern-day use of English.

As published in Twelve Strikes: A Play of Selected Writings. See I Live to Read page for further details.

Picture Credit: The Novel Reader, 1888, Vincent Van Gogh