As I type this blog post on my computer keyboard, I hear the “click-clack” sounds of Tim Youd retyping on his Olympia typewriter William Gaddis’s debut novel, The Recognitions, streaming live on Twitch.
If you are wondering what any of that means, let me first direct you to Tim Youd’s artist overview page for some context. Then you might visit a blog post we published in 2018 about Tim’s “St. Louis Retyped” project, part of his larger “100 Novels” endeavor, which is how Tim and the Modern Literature Collection first became associated with one another.
When Tim was on the Washington University campus to retype Stanley Elkin’s The Franchiser, he stopped in to John M. Olin Library to get an introduction to the Modern Literature Collection from yours truly. He was thrilled to see and touch Elkin’s typewriter and typescripts, as well as to see the typescripts of other favorite writers, William Gass, William Gaddis, and Joy Williams (lots of Williams there!), none of whose novels he had retyped yet but were under consideration.
Skip ahead to spring of 2020, when the world was going into lockdown, thus curtailing one of the key features of the 100 Novels project: to retype a book in a place associated with that author. Tim realized that this could be the perfect time to retype Gass’s epic ode to isolation, The Tunnel, from his garage/studio at home in Los Angeles.
Thus, through the month of May, the “Tunnel Retyped” project livestreamed on YouTube, with curator chat breaks on Instagram Live every Friday afternoon, the last of which I had the honor of hosting. Tim and I not only talked Gass and The Tunnel that day but also contributed to Ted Morrissey’s The Tunnel at 25: An Online Symposium, which came out later in the year.
As the pandemic wore on into the fall, another opportunity arose for Tim: to retype not one postmodern behemoth but two! NYRB Classics was scheduled to re-publish two Gaddis novels, J R (with an introduction by Joy Williams) and The Recognitions, back-to-back, and a re-publishing/re-typing cross-promotion quickly developed. Having completed J R at the end of 2020, Tim is now underway with The Recognitions, perhaps his longest/largest feat yet, at 933 pages in paperback (J R is a mere 770 pages, and The Tunnel only 652).
Tim started The Recognitions on January 25, 2021, and is working about five hours a day, five days a week. On the evening of January 27, he was joined by Cristin Tierney, Claire Gilman, Allison Uhrich, and myself for “Manuscripts as Visual Art,” a discussion of Tim’s project as a whole and his recent work on the Gass and Gaddis novels, with particular attention to the visual aspects in the typeset books and the typescripts in the authors’ papers in the Modern Literature Collection.
Which brings us to this: through January 31, 2021, the proceeds of the sales of Tim’s “Ribbons and Spools, 2020” graphite and colored pencil drawings will be donated to Washington University for the preservation of manuscripts. Go the Cristin Tierney viewing room to see them all, and go here any time to find more of Tim’s art for sale. And don’t forget to pick up copies of the new J R and The Recognitions from NYRB Classics!