Friday, February 25, 2005

Revenge of the Codex People

Bibliotheca Ephemeris was honoured to obtain an interview with Abbot Michael upon his return from Mainz, where he visited Johannes Gutenberg.
BE: Abbot Michael, can you please tell us what you discovered?
AM: This upstart Gutenberg claims he has created a device to allow ink to be directly applied to paper, without the intervention of a scribe! He has adopted a wine press, of all things, and places tiny pieces of wood on the face of the press, slathers ink all over the wood, and then presses the letters to the paper. He claims he can turn out dozens of pages a day this way.
BE: But you do not seem to be impressed.
AM: It is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen. This is not a dignified scriptorium, where monks illuminate manuscripts with leaf and ink. No, this is brute force work, simply dedicated to speedily turning out books. Can you tell me what civilized person would want this?
BE: What do you see as problems with this method?
AM: Problems? Why it is nothing BUT problems! For one thing, the so-called type is notoriously inefficient. Unlike a scribe, the type can break and introduce mischief into the text. And I saw one document that was nothing but words---no engravings, no marginalia, just words. How can we expect people to reflect upon the glories of the heavens when all we are giving them is words? And, of course, people can form their own ideas if all they see are words.
BE: How do the words get on the paper if there is no scribe?
AM: This is the worst part. ANYONE can set this type. Words can be changed by the typesetter, and who would be able to tell the difference? Do the typesetters require years of seminary training, an understanding of Greek, Latin, and Aramaic, and proper supervision by the hierarchy? No! And anything at all can be distributed like this. Where is the imprimatur, the nihil obstat? This will require the establishment of new institutions to prevent heresy from being introduced, to prevent the children and the feeble-minded from being misled.
BE: Do you feel threatened by this new device?
AM (laughing): Don’t be silly, my son. Why would anyone want hundreds of unbound pages when we can provide beauty and grace? The educated elite--the only people who can or should use these tomes---want to come to the sanctuary, receive the permission of the cleric, and use the text as it is chained to the altar, do they not? Is this not how they have always obtained their use of our books?

15 comments:

Rachel said...

Ok, this was NOT something to read with a mouthful of hot tea - bravo!

Cat. said...

Oh MY!

Very well done.

Obviously you can construct coherent thoughts--I wonder if you can do sustained reading of complex texts, too.

heh heh heh

Anonymous said...

Very Funny :)

-TangognaT

amanda said...

Brilliant!

K.G. Schneider said...

Hey, Language Log blogged you today. Dudes! Your rock our world.

Yogadad said...

Ok, some I'm a few days behind. How unusual! I can only echo the others praises...Very well done!

Anonymous said...

This is a bit funny, but it becomes clear the author(s) fail to understand Michael Gorman's points.

pbinkley said...

OK, I know the target of this satire isn't fifteenth-century abbots, but it's worth remembering that "imprimatur" means "let it be printed", and is a product of the kind of authoritative control that printing enabled - as epitomized in the old joke, "freedom of the press only applies to those who own one". For a genuine abbot's response to Gutenberg, read Trithemius's "In Praise of Scribes" (tr. Klaus Arnold). His gripes against printing are that errors don't get corrected from one copy to the next the way an intelligent scribe would do (more analogous with wikis than blogs), and that there are preservation issues: "The word written on parchment will last a thousand years. The printed word is on paper. How long will it last? The most you can expect a book of paper to survive is two hundred years. Yet, there are many who think they can entrust their works to paper. Only time will tell." (p.63) Plus ├ža change...

Jesse C said...

I did two things. First I read the excerpts of Gorman's comments on Bookslut. Then I went and actually read his full article. After I read the excerpt, I figured he was just another Luddite out to fight progress to preserve his place in the status quo. After I read his article, I realized he raised some valid concerns about the expenditure of resources on a project that he viewed as unable to provide the expected results.

Of course, he also threw in quite a lot of snarkiness in the direction of the blogs. But after having read some of the attacks upon him that featured in said blogs, I think bloggers are being a bit thin-skinned here. Since when do bloggers have a monopoly on snark? If they're going to dish it out, they're going to have to take it too.

Most amusingly of all, it seems that the furor over his comments have proved his point. One of his main arguments is that providing small paragraphs of information out-of-context do not contribute to knowledge. And watching the blogoshpere start foaming at the mouth at his quotes taken out-of-context (removed from the context of his larger article explaining why he was questioning the intelligence of bloggers) you start to see his point. Context is vitally important to information and as has just been demonstarted, meaning can be incredibly different depending on the framing of a selection.

While this is a funny parody, it completely misses the point. The argument here really has nothing to do with the printing press controvery. This is not an argument about whether digitizing books is good or not. Michael is clearly on board for the digitization of books and says as much in the article that has everyone so worked up. He is arguing that using Google as a search-tool for digitized books is going to be a very ineffectual way of finding pertinent information, because getting paragraph results from a larger text is going to remove all the context that makes the information so important in the first place.

Anonymous said...

I cannot improve on Jesse C's well-written comments. All I can say is, Amen.

pbinkley said...

I'm not sure it is clear that Gorman is "on board for the digitization of books". He says "I am all in favor of digitizing books that concentrate on delivering information, such as dictionaries, encyclopedias and
gazetteers, as opposed to knowledge. I also favor digitizing such library holdings as unique manuscript collections, or photographs, when seeing the object itself is the point..." That seems to be an exclusive list. Going beyond those categories places your project among the "expensive
exercises in futility". This is dizzyingly shortsighted, not least because it assumes that what Google and the digital environment can do now is all they'll ever be able to do. (The original article doesn't appear to be available at the LA Times site anymore, but there's a link to a copy in my new (gasp) blog).

LibraryTavern Liz said...

Very funny! I don't know if the Google idea is necessarily a great one, but I didn't appreciate Gorman's blog comments either.

Anonymous said...

i keep copies of the newspaper for printed versions of info i want to keep at hand.
i thought the online version would shrink my clutter piles down to digital size but quickly found my newspaper's search feature HORRIBLY inefficient.
when i typed in the article's title, it couldn't find it, but returned a lot of articles that may have just parts of those title words strewn throughout the text.more than 1 hour to find the digital version of 1 article that i had in my hand.it's faster to clip and save! or clip and scan.
but then again, google has lead me on many an interesting night's journey through knowledge. just as i would randomly stroll through a library.
i agree, relevance is key.
And can anything be done in blogger to prevent all that random link-propagating pseudocomments? yuck.

Anonymous said...

Ok, this was NOT something to read with a mouthful of hot tea - bravo!

Anonymous said...

hi this is ram: Most amusingly of all, it seems that the furor over his comments have proved his point. One of his main arguments is that providing small paragraphs of information out-of-context do not contribute to knowledge. And watching the blogoshpere start foaming at the mouth at his quotes taken out-of-context (removed from the context of his larger article explaining why he was questioning the intelligence of bloggers) you start to see his point. Context is vitally important to information and as has just been demonstarted, meaning can be incredibly different depending on the framing of a selection.

ram,

dating