Retyping Ironweed at the Albany Institute

Tim Youd Oxford Mississippi credit Robert Jordan University of Mississippi

Youd retyping William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury at the author's home in Oxford, Mississippi in 2014. / photo: Robert Jordan, University of Mississippi.

Gotta admit we don't know what to think about this, but if you see a guy typing on old-school typewriter outside the Albany Institute next week...

Performance artist Tim Youd will be at the museum Sunday and Tuesday-Saturday retyping William Kennedy's Ironweed as part of an ongoing project to retype famous novels in locations that are somehow significant to the author's work. Press release blurbage:

Employing the same make and model typewriter used by the author, Youd types each novel on a single sheet of paper, which is backed by an additional support sheet. The artist loads the two-ply paper through the typewriter repeatedly, until the entire novel has been retyped. As the typing progresses, the top sheet becomes saturated with ink and perforated from overuse, while the sheet underneath becomes embossed from indentation. Upon completion, the two pages are separated and mounted side by side as a framed diptych, recalling two pages of an open book with the words obscured. The diptych remains as a relic of the performance that embodies the novel, even though it is completely illegible.
According to the artist, "The genesis of the project came from my recognition that on a formal level, when you are looking at two pages of a book, you are looking at two rectangles of black text inside two larger rectangles of the white pages. I had the palpable desire to crush the words of the entire book into this formal language." It also becomes an investigation of memory, attention, and the act of reading. The artist explains, "We don't remember every word no matter how prodigious our memory--rather, we are left with some kind of layered impression."

Youd will be in the atrium of the Albany Institute, and if the weather is nice, outside on the museum's Washington Ave lawn. There's also a Thursday evening reception with samples of Albany Distilling Company's "Ironweed" products. See that link above for the schedule.

See also this Paul Grondahl article about the upcoming performance, including William Kennedy's quote at the end.

Youd is currently working through a Hudson Valley phase. He's at Olana this week, where he's retyping Light Years by James Salter.


Some performance art is great -- imaginative, inspiring, provocative. Then there is pretentious performance "art" that is pointless, forced, does not illuminate or add meaning to anything, and is pretty much talent-free. People can decide which type (pun intended) this one is.

Typo- Gotta admit we, don't [know] what to think about this...

Editors: Fixed, thank you. (Typing, yep.)

This sounds like an interesting project to me. chrisck, I don't know that performance art has to be either great or pointless. Couldn't there be a continuum in quality? Or different standards used for different kinds of performances? The act of setting up the broad undertaking—selecting the books and locations, finding the typewriters—and the artist's interactions with people at the venues will at a minimum bring some attention to the particular works of literature he chose and their authors. It may also make people think some about how technology and reading have changed over time. Thinking about such things has value.

On a lighter note, I wonder if Mr. Youd's typing accuracy has improved during the course of this project or if he bothers to try to be accurate at all, since the words will not be legible in the final object produced.

I just went to the Times Union article, which says:

"Youd is a two-finger, hunt-and-peck typist. He averages about five pages an hour." That gives me a much different picture. Hunt and peck, as opposed to touch typing, would likely give him the time to think more about what he is reading/typing as he searches for the keys.

Sounds fascinatingly zen to me. I plan to get down there to bring Youd some Daily Grind while he's hunting and pecking.

I like these lines from (my boss) Grondahl's story:
"I've been a big fan of Kennedy's for years," Youd said. He has never met the author, but he's an admirer of his Albany Cycle and by retyping "Ironweed" he expects to come to a deeper, more nuanced appreciation of the author's lyrical prose and the novel's complex internal architecture and literary themes."

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