Friday, May 19, 2017

Anne Trubek, 'The History and Uncertain Future of Handwriting' (Part II)

Anne Trubek, The History and Uncertain Future of Handwriting. New York: Bloomsbury, 2016.

Trubek next takes up the Greeks and Romans. Socrates was a proponent of the spoken word, positing that the written word was the lazy one's out. However, the written word creates inherent safeguards by recording ideas and statements for posterity, not dependent on the oral tradition to keep them moving on to following generations. President Donald J. Trump is no Socrates, but he, too, prefers the spoken word, or the short Twitter burst, over extended, sophisticated written thought. This is not a compliment. 

On the other hand, there's no reason to prefer one mode of communication over the other, especially when "recording angels" such as digital or tape recorders can capture spoken communication, including gestures and interjections. 

Trubek's main argument seems to be that change is inevitable -- get used to it. 

Whereas Socrates' spoken argument depends on intense social interaction in the flesh, written argument does not. Indeed, Trubek agrees on this point: in "oral cultures . . . to think deeply and complexly requires one to talk to someone else." (page 24). Again, I believe that we can do both. I do enjoy interacting with someone else via the spoken word, but I enjoy equally interacting with someone else, or in reflection, in solitude, via the written word.

Trubek next proceeds through the development of alphabets; the dearth of Greek written records due to the fragility of the materials upon which they wrote -- unless copied for posterity by those with access to them; and the Roman shaping of letters that we use (at least the capital letters) in English (and in many other languages) today. (page 29). 

What's particularly astonishing about this fact is that, if you come across a Roman monument from 2000 years ago, you can read and understand it rather easily, especially if you have a Latin dictionary handy. 

Trubek takes a look at the remains of graffiti excavated at Pompeii and in Smyrna (modern Izmir, Turkey) as well as ink-on-wood writings in England (pages 30-31). "The Romans were also more interested in writing down their histories, rather than orally transmitting them like the Greeks." (page 33). And: "We owe much of what we know about Roman events to scribes." (page 34). In my capacity as historian and chronicler, I approve of this message. We also need to be able to access and share this stuff, which is where full-scale transcription and digitization comes in.

The Romans began turning out books, even among the greater populace. More than 2000 years ago, "bookstores had been established in Rome and other cities such as Carthage, Lyon, and Brindisi, selling both new and used books. The first [known] X-rated and pulp books, as well as fine literary works, were published. And the wealthy started collecting the new technology into libraries." (pages 35-36).

Next: the so-called Middle Ages, or in Big Donnie's phrasing, "the Medieval Times."  

Today's Rune: Gateway

1 comment:

Charles Gramlich said...

My son and future wife just gave me a wonderful journal set with real ink pens to write in it. I wish I had the handwriting to do them justice