The evil scribe

What if Descartes’ demon was a medieval scribe and we were all trapped in a manuscript illuminated initial? What if our experience of reality was the result of parchment, ink and finesse?

The medieval scribes and illuminators responsible for the inebriating patterns and decorative lushness we find in so many manuscripts may have had an inkling of Descartes’ famous hypothesis: that we may be controlled by a malicious demon who uses all resources to deceive us into thinking that a fiction is real, that the world contained on a parchment sheet is the limitless universe experienced by those in it.

The ancient Greek philosophers agree with the latest thinkers in that we may be trapped in language, the logos that the Presocratics discovered and the post-moderns refined. The limits of our language are the limits of our world, but what if the language is a product of deception? In many ways, that’s true, if we look around us. But how can we be sure that there is a book beyond our page, a bound codex beyond our single sheet?

What if the hybrids of the manuscript page rose against their scribes, extracting themselves from the embedding fibres of calf skin and assuming the freedom their scribes once possessed when they conjured them up out of thin air and viscous red-ochre paste?

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