09 August 2012

The trials of books

So I was reading an article for class the other day and it had this interesting quote about books in it:

"...The trials and tribulations of books are equalled only by the trials and tribulations of mankind; their sufferings are identical with those of their creators, and, if they live longer, they are not immune from decay and death. They have been beaten and burnt, drowned, tortured, imprisoned, suppressed, executed, censored, exiled, condemned, buried; they are overworked and underworked, misused and maltreated, in every manner known to fate and chance and the most ingenious of miscreants and misguided zealots."

(I actually forgot to write down the name of the article I found the quote in, but the author, Clarkson, quoted it from Jackson, H. and Whibley, L. (eds.) A Companion to Greek Studies, essay by H Jackson, Philosophy, Cambridge, 1916.)
I have to admit that I rather agree with Jackson. Humans and books are terribly mistreated. Neither deserve it. And I found in a book about rare book librarianship another quote in the same vein:

"Paul Valery, who was not a bibliophile--few great writers are--begins his essay Literature in 1930, with the following sentence: 'Books have the same enemies as man: fire, damp, other creatures, time and their own content'." (The Rare Books Section of the Library by Pierre Breillat, 1965.)

On a totally different note. The rare books book also had an interesting quote about our culture. Several things that the book talked about kept me painfully aware that the book was written in the 60s, but this point I thought is every bit as applicable today as it was 50 years ago:

"And finally, what of the 'digest', so typical of a product of our superficial, hurried, disjointed, but encylopaedic culture? For, in an age in  which specialization increases daily, we are obliged to know something about everything." (p.21)

I think that "encyclopaedic" is an excellent word to describe our culture (though I will admit that superficial, hurried and disjointed aren't bad descriptors either). How many times have you been in a group where something random came up and nothing would do but to look it up online before conversation could continue?

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