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This article is taken from PN Review 231, Volume 43 Number 1, September - October 2016.

Pictures from a Library

28: The Artifactuality of dom sylvester houédard’s Typewriter
Stella Halkyard
Olivetti Letter 22 typewriter

IMAGE: Olivetti Letter 22 typewriter, 1950, dom sylvester houedard Collection, © University of Manchester

The typewriter shown here is a Lettera 22 that was made in the 1950s by the then world leaders in office technology, Olivetti. Designed by Marcello Nizzoli, it conforms to Camillo Olivetti’s maxim that, ‘a typewriter must not be a showpiece for the salon overloaded with tastelessness. It must be sober and at the same time work elegantly’. As a portable typewriter its dimensions are compact, measuring 27 x 37 x 8 centimetres and weighing some 3.7 kilogrammes. It models a variety of technological novelties including a tabular setting and clearing system that are controlled from the keyboard, as well as an innovative paragraph indentation key. Eighty-six type bars are available for use in red and black, and its space bar and ratchet-roller allow a high degree of precision in the placing of paper on the planten or typing surface.

Once the hippest of the hip, it now appears old and clunky besides our lighter, smarter digital writing devices that seem to have relegated it to the category of ‘dead’ media from the past. Yet, in its concrete materiality, this object offers a hard-edged resistance that ‘undoes such historical distancing by simply but obdurately persisting in the present’ where it has the potential to become ‘radically present’ as it retains its capacity to function ‘even though its outside world has vanished’ (Wolfgang Ernst). By concentrating on its agency, as a machine, this typewriter, in its ...


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