Thursday, September 22, 2011

Smoking Typewriters

Three books recently acquired by library "X" weave together alternative takes on reality. First up is John McMillan's Smoking Typewriters: The Sixties Underground Press and the Rise of Alternative Media in America (Oxford University Press, 2011). As per usual these days with nonfiction books, the full title pretty much sums up the contents. In between the covers (unless you're reading a phantom electronic version -- in which case forget the covers), you get more details.

Mimeograph machines and typewriters. Who reading this has had firsthand experience with these artifacts? I remember teachers and various nonprofits relying on mimeographs to spread the word about just about anything. Mimeographs had their own scent when freshly printed, so you knew when they were coming. And clacking typewriters did what keyboards do now, in a more mechanical way. I still love the sound of "smoking typewriters" (Allen Ginsberg's words, 1981). The idea of smoking typewriters retains currency: think of the Twitter and Facebook revolutions, how contemporary social media work, and you get the idea. The difference is, underground publications were then more likely to be distributed by hand, and were physical artifacts rather than virtual ones.

When I worked at Duke University's Perkins Library in the 1980s, I used to skim through microfilmed collections of these over in the periodicals department, including Thomas Merton's rag-zine, Monk's Pond; at the same time, I was helping put out Dog Food, another underground project; in Philadelphia in the 1990s, I also worked on Quo Modo, a slightly more polished "sporadical." Fun work, and engaging. This blog takes pretty much the same kind of aim at things.

Today's Rune: Gateway. 

1 comment:

Charles Gramlich said...

Smoking typewriters. lol. Great title. I have a chapter in Under the ember star called "Smoking blasters"