To live by the word

What is writing if not an act of concealment? The artifex remaining silent as the word exits the mind and joins its exile away from home, from the lips where it had resided since the dawn of articulation. A world truly out of joint. The written word is a betrayal of the ear in the... Continue Reading →

In praise of uncertainty

The amphivena, one of the most ambiguous, amphibious creatures in the medieval bestiary, about which little can be said except that little is known about it. Better the devil you know than the devil you don't, says the famous Irish proverb. Some good advice is to stick with it. With the devil you know, that... Continue Reading →

The end is just the beginning

Dante's Empyrean, the end-point of all end-points, by John Flaxman, 1807 All good things must come to an end, all journeys must draw to a close. So that better ones may begin. We always remember how a story ends, even when we remember nothing else about it. And the sacrilege of revealing the ending in... Continue Reading →

Libraries of the mind

Endless libraries, corridors of books whose vanishing lines dissolve into the volumes themselves. Tomes that no machine can count, pages that no algorithm can fathom. Troubled libraries, books that don't fit on pre-established shelves, bindings that no hands have ever touched. And inside those books, more books, more living matter, grey matter, green matter, roots... Continue Reading →

Seismic change

The 'Nuremberg Chronicle' in an early printed book. Published in 1493, it shows how most elements of a manuscript book (running titles, script, text layout, illustrations, etc) were taken over by the printed page. The history of the book may be divided into two big-chunk periods: the manual period and the machine period. On the... Continue Reading →

Handing over

The words 'tradition' and 'betrayal' share the same root, the Latin verb tradere meaning to hand over. To hand someone over to their enemies, to their death. To hand over the achievements of one generation into the hands of the next. Perhaps the two are not that different. Isn't tradition also a betrayal? Each generation... Continue Reading →

An incision on the face of nature

A Sumerian tablet on display at the Centre Pompidou-Metz as part of the Écrire, c'est dessiner exhibition Some things never change. Thousands of years may pass and some things feel recent and familiar. Others may change within a few generations and feel as though from another world. Such is the mystery of history and culture.... Continue Reading →

Information killer

Good decisions are made when one acts on good evidence and is well-informed. Good information, a good form given to a situation, a moment, a part of reality which in-forms the one who possess it. In our age of fake news, fact-checking and perceived misinformation, we may be tempted to believe that the history of... Continue Reading →

The encyclopaedic shift

A diagram showing the length of the months in an 8th-century manuscript of Isidore of Seville's Etymologies, a work of encyclopaedic proportions popular throughout the Middle Ages (St Gallen, Cod. Sang. 238, p.325) For better or worse, Wikipedia is the world's most popular encyclopaedia, whose English version averages around 255 million pageviews a day. Its... Continue Reading →

Only a handful of words

It seems that in the 2020s, the monopoly over apophthegms belongs to Twitter. Once written in stone, then in epigrams on papyrus, parchment and paper, the short witty saying known as apophthegm has now moved to the most intangible writing support ever invented: the web. The 5th-century Sayings of the Desert Fathers, known in Latin... Continue Reading →

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