Merely historical

The evolutionary basis of humanity’s obsession with the past must be the demands of performance on human behaviour. To avoid making the same, potentially fatal, mistake again, memory and memorisation are required. To reach tomorrow, remembering and understanding yesterday is key. Fishing stops the moment fish become historians. Ancient historiography, or the practice of doing/writing... Continue Reading →

The pleasure of pain

What if there was so much pleasure in the painful memories of old that we can’t help living in the past? An fMRI study from 2016 revealed that 'when nostalgia was triggered, participants’ brains showed activity in two powerful neural networks: the areas of the brain associated with memory and the brain’s reward system'. Pleasurable... Continue Reading →

A good read

It’s that time of year where the culture and book section of major newspapers and magazines invite us to pick up the best 10/20/100 books to read during the summer holidays, on the beach, on the road, in airport lounges, by the pool. The history of context-specific reading is quite old. The Romans are known... Continue Reading →

Fictive bodies

As Dante arrives on the last terrace of Purgatory, where lust, or 'troppo vigore' (too much vigor) is being purified, he gets a wow-moment from the other souls-in-residence. Everyone is astonished that Dante the pilgrim doesn't, in their words, 'seem to have a fictive body' ('Colui non par corpo fittizio'). They are obviously right. Dante... Continue Reading →

Eternal returns

The words destiny and destination have the same root. They both have an end in sight. We resent endings. Like Ralph Waldo Emerson, we prefer the trip to the destination. We like to be on the road, to cherish the experience. The end is the end. But the end point, though never truly achievable, is... Continue Reading →

Repurposing culture

A marble Roman Corinthian capital from the first century AD used as a medieval baptismal font in the church of St Nicolas of Bari in Avilés, Spain (photo my own) There’s really only two ways to deal with waste, one is to destroy it, the other is to recycle it. Which means finding a way... Continue Reading →

Migrant words

Ideas travel because words migrate from one text to another. Writing means recording, and recording is all about setting down, solidifying, making words permanent, grounded. But they don't stay grounded for long. Though the books don't move, words tend to migrate. They piggy back on the minds of readers and find new homes in new... Continue Reading →

Word bars and spacebars

Words know borders. Air can carry words only so far, relying on bodies to extend the range. Pages and books extend the range even further, but the irony is that on the page, words have never been more cloistered, more isolated from each other. In the West, Latin letters were originally written in continuous lines,... Continue Reading →

Life as a medieval manuscript

It’s been roughly half a millenium since Europe moved beyond a culture of handwritten books. It was painful (for the scribes), expensive (for book merchants and readers), and slow (slow to write and to read). But most of all, it proved uncompetitive once the printing press had moved beyond the early adoption stage. And yet... Continue Reading →

Words in isolation

The cloister of the Norman monastery of San Giovanni degli Eremiti, Palermo (June 2022) Open cultures are most of the time the best way to organise human groups. Unless the group wants to defend itself. Or when the collapse of literate civilization threatens books, reading and writing with extinction. As ancient Roman culture was entering... Continue Reading →

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