Neo-hieroglyphs

From the point of view of our engagement with the written word and the new media, our age has been described as one of secondary orality. Walter Ong’s seminal work on the topic unveiled the deep transformations in language and culture occasioned by the electronic and then digital turn. If there is a second orality,…

Heresy 2.0

We might be in the best position today to understand why theologians, thinkers and leaders in the late antique and medieval period cared so much about heresy. And that is not necessarily because of our scholarship and historical knowledge of that period and of those mentalities, but because we may be starting to be confronted…

The illusion of personality

There are few things I resent more in electronic communication than those automatic emails written in such personal language as to give the impression that they were specifically written for the addressee. You and I are getting them almost every day. A tacit complicity between sender and receiver. They both know it’s all a trick,…

Calligraphic omnipresence

Nobody cares about the channel as long as it’s the only available one. Just like art has no place in a world dominated by artisans, so calligraphy isn’t recognised as such in a chirographic culture. The beginnings of calligraphy in the West postdate the invention of print, which had the effect of demoting handwriting (from…

Bad ideas attract the good

According to Gresham’s Law, bad money drives out good. Known since Aristophanes, this law states that undervalued, or more value-stable currency would eventually be put out of circulation by an overvalued, or value-losing currency, when both currencies are allowed on the market. Faced with the choice of keeping both in circulation or keeping one for…

Mechanical transformations

Printing has done to manuscript books what photography has done to painting. It has transformed a medium by adding a further layer of technology between the human hand and the artefact. A book written by hand is as technological as a printed book. The making papyrus, paper or parchment, the mixing of ink, the preparation…

It starts in the classroom

The Sienese Renaissance painter Ambrogio Lorenzetti (1290-1348) makes a good point in placing the classroom right at the heart of the city in his fresco known as the Effects of Good Government in the City, completed in 1339. The school classroom is not at the edge of town, cloistered and fire-walled. It is right in…

The age of lockdown

As I write this, England enters a new lockdown. Traffic has stopped, there are few people in the street, and the two caf├ęs which I can see from my window have pulled their outdoor tables inside and put up the shutters. Some are happy with the new safety measures, others resent them, but everyone is…

More than enough

In business, efficiency is measured by dividing the individual output by the standard output rate and multiplying the outcome. Energy efficiency rises when power goes down while result goes up. The efficiency of a country’s economy is a function of its GDP per hour worked. Drive and result. Language is subject to the rules of…

The benefit of hindsight

History is always about looking back, sitting down and trying to understand the past. Preserving a clear vision in the present is often risky, the maelstrom of contradicting interpretations, the absence of evidence, the weakness of the facing perspective is not something we value. The present tense is unstable. It flows inexorably, but the snapshot…