Frozen in time

A manuscript fragment from around 900 AD used as a binding for another book, University of Kansas, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, MS 9/2:31

A medieval manuscript that time forgot, lost on a faraway shelf. A codex away from literate eyes. Parchment turned into purse lining. Leaves tucked into more desirable bindings that nobody suspects.

Fragments used and reused, repurposed and recovered, the wear and tear of the ancient sign, the rune of ages, the march of grounded meaning through the epochs.

Words are but fragments, and phrases but bigger fragments, that writers and readers exchange with each other in fear and delight, struggling to beat the silence and miscommunication buit into the very fabric of the universe. Each word brings closer, though it may also alienate.

The handwritten word is faced with a high evolutionary risk. A lot of human energy is required to keep it alive and present it to future generations. It takes very little to end up on the losing side, wrinkled and alone. The copyist is the agent of nature tasked with making choices and making it happen.

The printing press changed the game. Now words are frozen, not in time, but on the page. Very little human effort is now required to overcome the chaos of loss. Print a hundred copies and you’ve won the race against time.

Something, however, always gets lost. Whether in form or in meaning, words are in need of constant husbandry. Even the most bountiful land needs fertiliser. That’s where the reader comes in.

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