During his last decade, Friedrich Nietzsche’s deteriorating constitution continued to plague the philosopher. In addition to suffering from indigestion, insomnia, and crippling migraines for most of his life, the 1880s brought about a dramatic decline in Nietzsche’s vision, with one doctor noting that “his right eye could see only false and distorted images.”
Nietzsche himself stated that writing and reading for more than twenty minutes had become extremely painful. With his intellectual output at its peak during this period, the philosopher needed a device that would allow him to write while making minimal demands on his vision.
So he attempted to buy a typewriter in 1881. Although he knew Remington’s typewriter, the ailing philosopher sought a model that was portable enough, allowing him to travel, if necessary, to a healthier climate. The Malling-Hansen Writing Ball seems to fit the bill:
At Dieter Eberwein it’s free Nietzs Screibkugel e-book, vice president of the Malling-Hansen Society explains that the writing ball is the closest thing to 19th century laptop. The first commercially produced typewriter, the writing ball was created by Danish inventor Rasmus Malling-Hansen in 1865, and was displayed at the Paris Universal Exhibition of 1878 with journalistic acclaim:
“In 1875, the fast writing instrument, designed by Mr. L. Sholes in America, and produced by Mr. Remington, introduced in London. This machine is superior to Malling-Hansen stationery; but the writing ball in its current form far exceeds the Remington machine. This secures greater speed, and the writing is clearer and more precise than American instruments. Danish equipment has more locks, is much less complicated, is manufactured with higher precision, is sturdier, and is much smaller and lighter than Remington, and what’s more, is cheaper.”
Despite his initial excitement, Nietzsche quickly grew tired of the complex contraption. According to Eberwein, the philosopher struggled with the device after it broke down during a trip to Genoa; an incompetent mechanic trying to make the necessary repairs may have damaged the slate ball further. Still, Nietzsche typed some 60 manuscripts on his ball of writing, including what is perhaps the most poignant poetic treatment of a typewriter to date:
“WRITING BALL IS A THING LIKE ME:
MADE OF IRON BUT EASY TO BUY ON THE WAY.
PATIENCE AND WISDOM IS NEEDED IN Abundance
AS WELL AS FINE FINGERS TO USE US.”
In addition to viewing some of Nietzsche’s original manuscripts on the Malling-Hansen Society’s website, those who wish to take a closer look at Nietzsche’s model can take a look in the video below.
Note: This post originally appeared on our site in December 2013.
Ilia Blinderman is a culture and science writer based in Montreal. Follow him on @iliabinderman.
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