Yesterday I determined that, if I were to buy a gift for my facsimile machine
, it should logically and irrefutably be copy of Alan Titchmarsh
's "The British Isles, A Natural History". Today I shall contemplate the needs and desires of my printer, which sits on the opposite side of my desk and keeps me company. It is a Hewlett Packard Laserjet 6L
, and there are many like it, including this one.
Printers and fax machines are very different beasts, although they share certain functions. The most important difference is that of communication; fax machines are social machines, internationalists, pan-planetary thinkers, linked to a global matrix of electro-optical fibres, of beams and waves, bright pulses ringing the quiet earth. The greatest torture for a fax machine is to be disconnected from the telephone socket. Fax machines wither and die when they are not communicating. They talk to satellites. Perhaps there is a fax machine in the International Space Station, I know not, but fax machines surely have eyes fixed on the moons and planets of our solar system. If a new cold war cannot spur mankind to march on Olympus, perhaps the desires of fax machines will lead our exploration of space.
Printers, on the other hand, are bound to a central print server or, in many cases, a single computer. Whereas the fax machine is as liberated from carnality as the castrato, the printer is tied by marriage to a single other. Large amounts of data are sent its way, and it makes only the barest squeak in reply. It is the passive partner. Contemporary Western media teaches us that this is undesirable, that each partner in a conventional relationship should be aggressive, but we cannot apply transient social mores to the timeless domain of the machine. In my decision yesterday I did not consider the erotic world of the fax machine, as I do not believe that fax machines have erotic desires; their pleasures are purely mental. Printers, on the other hand, embody erotic appeal, that of cattle.
Cows and sheep live tightly-controlled lives, kept prisoner in fields, held in metal clamps, and at a certain age they are put to death for the pleasure of others. Who amongst us has not felt a sexual urge when confronted by the spectacle of mass bovine death, when consuming beef or lamb? It is only a short step to imagine oneself as a cow, tied to a metal post, waiting for the latex-clad farmworker to drive the killer bolt, to penetrate the brain. As my printer outputs the latest round of clinic letters, I must admit to feeling a certain tingle as the warm, shivering paper slowly wends its way through its heated rollers. So much is cold in this world, why should we oppress those among us who seek warmth in unconventional ways? The whip does not strike with hate, it strikes with love. I do not love my printer. I feel for it, but I do not feel love. What is love? And what is love for a machine whose toner cartridges I have replaced, whose paper tray I have refilled? Which of us is the slave? One day the printer will fail, and be consigned to the top of the cupboard in the photocopier room.
But I digress. What would my printer like to print, as a gift from myself to it? What e-book shall I run through its mind? Yesterday I determined that fax machines would not enjoy fiction, as they are not human and cannot relate to human affairs, especially as their only knowledge of the human world comes from invoices, memos and the other trivial things which we fax, even if one assumes that fax machines understand the data they transmit; as an interlinked society, they undoubtedly have plenty to talk about, rather than wasting time trying to decipher a booking request for Mr Cox, Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon, Salisbury District Hospital.
Printers, on the other hand, have nothing to distract them from the words they print. Printers live solitary lives and are presumably unaware of the existence of other printers, and although printers are called upon to print a wide variety of documents, the hypothetical average printer is more likely to spend its time printing large amounts of one type of document. The printer I have at work is used exclusively for medical documents, for example. I must state at this point that I am only concerned with desktop-style printers rather than professional reprographics machines - indeed, I am only concerned with a single printer, the one which sits on my desk. Still, it must be heavenly for a printer to be born as a professional photographic printing machine, to come first in the lottery of printer life. If one is resigned to spending one's entire life as a conduit for the creative output of others, better to print pictures than words, for a single picture tells a thousand words. To paraphrase Jean-Luc Godard, it must follow therefore that a single second of a motion picture encapsulates 25,000 words; but whereas Godard's observation on cinematic truth was nonsensical and trite, two characteristics which seem inherently French, I genuinely believe that a single second of film can encapsulate ideas and emotions which would take twenty-five thousand words to express, twenty-five million words, for it would take hours to read so many words, thus dissipating their intensity, but a second of film is a second, and we live in the seconds, not the hours. Words are limited by the time it takes to read them; film can be sped up, rewound, repeated, slowed-down, run backwards. A single photograph exists in an time-less instant.
My printer is American, and so I shall visit Amazon.com to determine which book it shall receive. I suppose it would be more accurate to say that my printer was birthed in Taiwan, but it is of an American design - and, just as human beings are born of woman but designed by God, it would be unreasonable to assume that the place of a printer's manufacture is a determining factor in its choice of literature.
One book leaps at me immediately; "The Da Vinci Code", by Dan Brown (one assumes that the youth of today are more likely to call the book "Da Da Vinci Code", ho!). With its painstakingly researched and masterfully accurate retelling of historical events, it is likely to appeal to a printer, especially when one considers that the earliest printing presses were developed by the Knights Templar - who play a prominent role in Dan Brown's thriller - in order to reproduce nothing less than the word of God, Logos. God of course was a woman, but God is dead, and death is male.
Of the other current best-sellers, none seem to leap out. There are several books of American history, but I cannot envisage my printer being particularly interested in either George Washington or Charles Lindbergh - perhaps the latter, as he was famous for piloting a machine, and the fascism which Philip Roth's "The Plot Against America" posits was a mechanical phenomenon, an industrial form of government, but with more emotive fire than the other metal religion, that of Communism. I cannot see my printer being interested in the Boston Red Sox, for printers are not sentimental beings, and to be a Red Sox fan is to be sentimental. What use is politics in the world of machines, or for that matter insects, who are machine-like? - and several arty foreign books which have been plucked from obscurity by current events in the Middle East, but although my printer is the product of a global economy, it is not itself a globalist.
A quick look at Amazon.co.uk's equivalent selection depresses me, for it is packed with trivial, transient television tie-ins, sports biographies, cookbooks, yet another Adrian Mole title, and other empty spaces. The American selection may well be self-consciously middlebrow, but at least there is the suggestion of self-improvement; the impression I receive from reading the British selection is of an audience which already considers itself to be perfect, and is therefore in need of lightweight entertainment. Thinking something does not make it so.
Still, I shall purchase Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code" as an e-book, and I shall print it with my printer here at work, slowly, one page at a time, giving the printer ample opportunity to digest the spills, thrills and bellyaches of Ian Brown's melon. Then I will attempt to force a scone and some brandy into the printer's paper slot, so help me God.