The E Wasteland

“T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland not only featured a typist as one of its figures, Eliot’s actual typing of the poem on three different typewriters proved the key by which Lawrence Rainey unlocked the history of the text and accurately reconstructed the  different episodes’ order of composition.

Would such a coup have been possible if Eliot wrote the poem on a succession of Mac Powerbooks? Scholars interested in questions such as these for literary manuscripts that now exist only as document folders on hard drives or data in the “cloud” will one day have to come to terms with the particulars of different operating systems, software versions, and hardware protocols, as well as the characteristics of a variety of different hard-copy output technologies, from dot matrix and daisy wheel to inkjet and laser printer.”

From: Track Changes: A Literary History of Word Processing (by Matthew G. Kirschenbaum, Harvard University Press, 2016




7 thoughts on “The E Wasteland

  1. Well, those Powerbook files would have been timestamped, making the whole project quite a bit easier. Always provided they could be read, of course, which is your point, I guess.


  2. Some of my earliest writing was done on a TRS-80 Model II that was a few years obsolete when I received it. All stored on 8 inch floppy disks. Some of it was published in my first book. The rest is forever in the bit bucket.


  3. Last night I dreamt of buying a manuscript of Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. Of course, he stuck to pen amd used colors for drafting, I didn’t know this about Eliot. What typer is he using in that photo? In any case, great poem! A wasteland of machines. Shanti shanti shanti.


  4. Great post.

    It’ll be truly amazing if any of the places like the Library of Congress will ever be able to preserve but a bit of modern digital anything as the formats and software continually changes and what was can not now be read by a modern operating system. An author’s original notes, first drafts, and final manuscript if they only used a pc will fade into oblivion.

    John Mayer started using a typewriter because he realized all his music was lost in the digital world and he wanted the original drafts and words to be preserved.

    I also wonder will all the documents made with carbon ribbons that only deposit a clump of carbon onto the paper in the shape of a character will live as long as a document written in pencil, ink, or a typewriter with a real inked ribbon.


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