A blaze of light in every word

Darkness, light, fulness and fragmentation. There's a blaze of light in every word, a crack in everything. The holy, the broken, hope and despair. The road is bumpy, the traffic signs have been dismantled and the engine is stalling. The poet has it all. The singer never knew the name, but had a shot at... Continue Reading →

The sweetest thing

The 15th-century 'Washington' Haggadah, now in the Library of Congress, is a treat for the eyes and, to judge by the evocative illumination, for the tastebuds as well. Humans are creatures of incentives, and a piece of chocolate goes a long way as reward for good behaviour. According to one medieval Jewish custom, the gateway... Continue Reading →

I will eviscerate you in fiction!

Dante and Virgil on their sightseeing tour of Hell, The Morgan Library, MS M.676 fol. 28r (c. 1345 AD) There's a scene in the movie 'A knight's Tale' where a Geoffrey Chaucer played by Paul Bettany confronts Simon the Summoner and Peter the Pardoner to whom Chaucer had lost his clothes through gambling. The author... Continue Reading →

The empty parchment

Did ancient and medieval writers ever worry about the blank page in the same way we do? Considering how many medieval manuscripts survive with blank parchment leaves, it is a question worth asking: did facing the empty parchment have any special meaning to those preparing to embark on the adventure of shaping a text into... Continue Reading →

The arrowhead of history

Each culture has its own way of thinking about the past, of making sense of where it’s coming from. For the ancient Greeks and Romans, the past was glorious, a mythological golden age cyclically moving through decadence and renewal. For the medievals, history was an arrow shooting through time and aiming for the kingdom of... Continue Reading →

The AI that can’t be bothered

Unlike biology, human cognition is not directly or primarily concerned with survival. Unlike instinct, thought can oscillate between options. It can be paralysing and it can be self-destructive. The most extreme case is the rational justification for actions of self-harm and suicide. Apart from humans, no other animals have ever or will ever act towards... Continue Reading →

With fear and trembling

Those who are not in constant awe, surely some tragedy will befall them. Lao Tzu To approach the written letters in a book is to let the mind surf on the edge of endless possibility. Sound is finite, and so is the image on the flickering screen. But the written word is protean, infinitely insondable.... Continue Reading →

In mythic mode

Myths know no boundaries, except the boundaries of myth. In a collection purporting to tell the 'vraye hystoire du bon roy Alixandre', Alex the Great figure of medieval myth is carried off by griffins in a cage (British Library, Royal 20 B XX) Natural logic and math teach us that two plus two equals four... Continue Reading →

Silicon worship: AI, literature and religion

"Artificial intelligence, the technology that allows a computer to think like a human." These are the opening words of a recent story by the BBC focusing on the impact of robots on religion. A fascinating topic which has been insufficiently discussed in the media. Leaving aside the fact that artificial intelligence as it exists today,... Continue Reading →

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