Friday, May 26, 2017

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

Xerox Print Ad, 1976: Brother Dominic and the 9200.
Anne Trubek, The History and Uncertain Future of Handwriting. New York: Bloomsbury, 2016.

Next we come to Chapter 4: "HUMAN XEROX MACHINES." In which Trubek describes monastic scribes and the process of copying ancient and newer texts.

A touch of weirdness here. "We are not sure exactly when silent reading developed, but . . . Saint Augustine [354-430 A.D.] described being shocked to find his friend, Ambrose [circa 340-397 A.D.], reading without saying the words out loud. The move from spoken to silent reading, like so much in this history, moved from being primarily oral to being more text based . . . Once silent reading became the norm, the scriptoria went quiet. The Church started using silence as a form of devotion and discipline, and to this day many monasteries require absolute silence." (page 42).  

Whoah. This is hard to believe, that people functioned like talking audio books when they read. Assuming that people must have been thinking silent thoughts as well as talking aloud, surely there were also people who could do the same with reading. Intriguing, though. Perhaps they whispered or muttered insensibly, sounding like babblers to anyone nearby to throw them off when they were reading the medieval version of Lady Chatterley's Lover.  
Silent thinking and reading are essential to personal autonomy and freedom. This is why "truth serum" and "lie detectors" are so useful to dictators and spy agencies. If you can safeguard your thoughts and dreams, you can remain free, at least in your mind.

Chapter 5: "THE POLITICS OF SCRIPT." Here we see the eventual addition of lower case words, for as Trubek points out: "The Romans wrote only in capitals." (page 47).

After various different types of scripts were developed, tried, discarded or modified, sometimes revived for artistic flourish (as is true still in the 21st century), scripts moved in our direction. The printing press would accelerate this process through greater standardization.

"Medieval scripts carry cultural meaning: Uncial was designed to distinguish Christianity from Rome, whereas humanist script self-consciously referred back to . . . that same Rome. To most of us [now], humanist is easier to read . . . because it is more familiar,  not because it is intrinsically more legible." (page 58).

Today's Rune: Growth. 

1 comment:

Charles Gramlich said...

I never considered that there might have been a time before silent reading. How fascinating a thought.