Friday, April 4, 2014

Time Travel, Epic of Gilgamesh

If travelling through time were possible (I phrase 'possible' lightly, because, on some level I believe we access this remarkable ability almost daily — more on that in a moment) by means of an Einstein Rosen bridge to propel me backward and forward through time and space, I would travel somewhere between c. 2000-1400 BCE, Mesopotamia, to when The Epic of Gilgamesh was written.

This story gripped me. Written on twelve clay tablets, The Epic of Gilgamesh is among the earliest surviving literary works, dealing with friendship, death, and our quest for immortality. In the story, after the death of his friend Enkidu, Gilgamesh ventures on a quest to find eternal life in the form of the flower of immortality, a plant called, 'The Old Man Who Becomes a Young Man' that restores a person to their youthful state.  

Gilgamesh retrieves the plant by diving to the bottom of the sea, but a serpent later eats it after being attracted by its fragrance, and so Gilgamesh believes he has failed in quest, and returns to his city of Uruk empty handed. 

But he doesn't really fail. While reading this story for the first time back in 2008, in the comfort of a favourite armchair, I smiled at the fact that Gilgamesh had achieved immortality through the power of words. His tale survived for thousands of years, spanning multiple generations and formats, such as spoken word, print, and electronic text — to become one of the oldest surviving stories in history.

I would travel through time and speak with the author of the Epic of Gilgamesh (or Gilgamesh, if he really did exist), and tell him that he didn't fail. I would speak to him about the beauty of words, and the life that carries on even after we die. Writing and telling stories, shared in any culture is a vehicle for immortality.

The Future of the Book is its power to take us forward or backward in time, and, as a recorder of lives,  has an uncanny ability to take us to other times, places, and moments in our life.

Last Post and Exhibition Opening

Hey all!

Its been great reading everyone's posts this semester, so for my last post I wanted to invite you all to the opening of my exhibition "Science in Colour!" on the third floor of Victoria College from 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm this Friday evening!

I know there is also a pub night at exactly this time, but you could come see the exhibition, have some cake (there is a huge cake), and then head on over to the pub!

Here is the Facebook page so feel free to check it out, there are holograms, an interactive colour wheel, 1st edition volumes of Grant's Atlas of Anatomy, and some pretty cool colour blindness tests ... something for everyone!

I hope you all have a great end of term, and to see you all there tonight!



Thursday, April 3, 2014

The future of the play text, as imagined from the 1980s and 1990s.

            As much as I fancy myself a Shakespearean, my biggest interest in literature is actually in the staging of American theatre over the last century or so. So, following some of my earlier posts about the future of the book and the ability to include film in the future of the book, I’d like to go back to the 1980s and 1990s (and maybe just a little earlier than that) to tell playwrights and theatre companies about the future of the book that will allow their plays to be recorded more thoroughly.

Part of the reason I choose the recent past, and not the far past, is that many of the technologies that are required for recording audio and video are available to these people (and thus I won’t have to introduce an entire civilization to a futuristic technology that could significantly alter time and technology as we know it). How incredible would it be to have professional-grade recordings of the opening nights of major shows like Tony Kushner’s Angels in America and Jonathan Larson’s Rent. Or (from a more “fun” angle) Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera or Cats. Imagine seeing Ethel Merman sing Mama Rose in the original production of Gypsy (whether you love her or hate her – it would be a thrill to see)! Not only would we have more of these things (for we do have plenty of recordings of early broadway shows in the Rogers and Hammerstein collection at the New York Public Library), but by setting this precedent we would make it commonplace for current shows to be recorded.

Having just come back from a theatre trip to New York City (where, among other shows, I saw Waiting For Godot with Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen and the opening night of If/Then with Idina Menzel and Anthony Rapp), I am desperate to evangelize the importance of documenting these wonderful performances. The production of Waiting For Godot that I saw fundamentally changed the way that I have read and will read Beckett’s text. McKellen and Stewart brought a warmth and a humour to the show (that I think is actually present in the text) that I have literally never been taught exists in the text. And it’s a shame that this production will only exist in the public consciousness as long as theatre scholars like myself talk about it. If filming a Broadway production for posterity was a commonplace practice, we would have a record of these performances that would allow scholars like myself to access them, and we would be able to share them as valuable pieces of entertainment with the masses.

If I could promote this future of the book where it will be essential to include a recorded performance as part of an edition of the play, I could make these practices normalized and much more theatre history could be preserved. It would make interpretative arguments that rely on authorship (broadly speaking) much easier to make, and would help to legitimize performance studies as a field.

If only I had the power (whether in the past or now) to help make this a norm…

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Wisdom from a 21st Century Book Junkie

If - nay, when! - I go back to the past, impart my wisdom, and pollute timelines, what advice will I give people regarding books, knowledge, and information?

(Disclaimer: This post was written on caffine deprivation at the end of the school year. I am tired. Please don't take any of the rest of this post seriously. Better yet, don't even grade this post. This is my narcissistic, Divine Manifesto wherein I fancy myself a god.)

Given my knowledge of the "future", I imagine imparting this wisdom in the form of stone tablets with a lot of thou shalls and thou shall nots. I think, if given the option, I would go leapfrog-ing through time, in Europe, and impart this knowledge upon those working with texts:

1) Thou shall write and annotate in the margins of your works. Writing in the margins will help the future generations of scholars to deconstruct many aspects and nuances of daily life. We, the future, like it when you annotate.

2) Thou shall not strip books of lineage markings so as to reclaim the book as your own.  (This was fairly common with the dissolution of royal libraries in Britain between the 14th-16th centuries, especially. In the 15th century, when Humphrey of Lancaster, Duke of Gloucester died, his library was dissolved by John Somerseth. Somerseth allegedly stripped off the Dukes crest from the inside of the book, stamped it with his own crest, and donated it to the University of Cambridge as though it was from his own collection. Cheeky.) I would impart to these royal families and aristocrats the future importance of provenance and lineage, in attempting to reconstruct the past.

3) Thou shall allow illustrators and scribes to sign their work, allowing for further comparative study of books and where they come from. Indeed, I would impart onto them the colophon.

4) Thou shall endeavor to make more Rosetta Stones in every language possible.  The amount of languages we've lost is staggering. The wealth of knowledge we've lost with the inaccessibility to translate is incomprehensible.  For example, I would demand that Linear A - the name we give to the undeciphered language of the Minoans (Greeks), be written along side other languages, preferably Egyptian or Aramaic.

5) Thou shall allow and encourage women to write and publish! This one is obvious for a number of reasons.  But I think this will solve a lot questions about 'anonymous' authors who's work survives today. I'm sure it's all brilliant women behind these seminal works. In keeping with that, Rule 5.1 will be: thou shall not destroy woman's work! I would like to read the Book of Eve, for instance, which was likely destroyed in the 4th century AD by the church official, Epiphanius. (Though I suspect the current Pope has a copy of it under lock and key.)

6) Thou shall declare war against bookworms (silver fish and firebrats). They destroy everything we hold dear. Although they occasion provide information on where the book has been. But that won't be needed since everyone will be operating with a standardized colophon.

7) Thou shall not invade other territories and burn down their libraries. Alexandria is not to be touched, under pain of being incinerated by my futuristic ray gun!

8) Thou shall follow the Archaeological Institute of America's guidelines and policies for preserving materials in stable climates. This means no sheds, attics, or basements. I will bring with me acid free boxes from the future. Not to worry.

9) Thou shall not lose works that I've decided are seminal. I know, some cultures have oral traditions and don't like to write things down - I'm looking at you, Greeks. But I must have the lost Homeric epics. Find a list of other works that are lost to us that really shouldn't be here.

10) Thou shall not censor literature or ideas under any circumstance. Proliferation of books and ideas are encouraged.  Book-burning and other destructive actions against books are also banned. Need I remind you of my futuristic ray gun?

Monday, March 31, 2014

Time Travel

If I was to travel back in time to tell people about the future of books I would want to explain the importance of proper preservation and conservation. Countless collections have been lost from natural disasters and war in ancient and medieval times and if by going back in time could help change that it would be pretty great.  My problem, however, is trying to figure out what time period I would go back to.

Each era has individual and unique circumstances to book loss and the impact it has had on the history of the book. After thinking about it for a couple of days I decided the time period I would choose to go back to is the 3rd century in Alexandria Egypt. It was in this time that the Royal Library of Alexandria was constructed. This library is well known as a symbol of the “destruction of cultural knowledge” because the library endured several fires and acts of destruction over many years.

If I could go back to this time I would explain the importance of protecting the type of literature within the library from natural disasters as well as war and why it is essential for the people of the time to focus on ways to ensure the safety of books. By explaining the importance of conservation and preservation it could potentially have an impact on the amount of books that could be saved over the years leading up until the 21st century.

And here is a little video of Carl Sagan briefly discussing the library: 

Future of the Book and Ancient Egyptians

I am sorry it took me so long to get this post up, I spent a lot of my weekend dealing with a fractured radius.

Alright on with the post!

If I could go back to any time period, I would go back to ancient Egypt. It is my favorite period of history and I learnt a bit about ancient Egyptian literature during my undergraduate degree. The literature of ancient cultures like the Egyptians encompasses a wide variety of topics and genres, including everything from love poems to mathematical treaties. Due to the nature of the mediums used for publishing literature during this time period, such as papyrus and tablets, only a small percentage of ancient Egyptian literature has been successfully recovered by archaeologists. Yet the myths, cattle transaction records, and poems are available for readers all around the globe in translated books and online.

Therefore what I would tell them about the future of books is how the advent of the internet provides hitherto unprecedented freedom and access to knowledge and books. Wherein anyone can search up a book title and most likely purchase an online copy or have it shipped to their door. Yet I would emphasize that the purpose of books and literature has not changed so drastically as to be unrecognizable by ancient Egyptians.

For instance, books and literature in modern culture can be used as symbols of status, just like texts containing funeral spells in ancient Egypt. Similarly modern self-help books remind me of the wisdom text in ancient Egypt, which discuss the best ways to live and improve your life.

What I am trying to express is that however books change a thousand years in our future may be as incomprehensible to us as the online book, EReaders, and next day shipping would have been to the ancient Egyptian. Yet no matter how much the mediums involved in publishing and reading change, there are literary topics that have a weird universal potency.

I would tell the ancient Egyptian about the internet and EReaders because I think it is astounding that we can look back thousands of years into the history of literature, and the human race, and through books identify underlying themes that surpass changes in technology, and that connect our lives to those of our ancestors.

Thank you all for a wonderful blogging semester!

Friday, March 28, 2014

10: The Future Back Then

In 2001, this movie “Black Knight” starring Martin Lawrence was released. I’ve never seen it, but I know that the idea is that this guy who works at a medieval theme park finds some magic medallion and travels back to 14th century England. I don’t know why, but ever since I saw that trailer, every couple of months I will spend a minute or two thinking about how I would not like to time travel. All I can think about is how stressful it would be to try and accomplish the most basic tasks like finding food and shelter or to communicate with people. I think most of my time spent in a different era would include a lot of sighing. How would I even find the people who might be interested enough in the topic to talk to? What if I decided that I would like to go back to Ancient Greece and tell Socrates that I know he’s not really into writing things down, but that he should really consider it because Plato’s going to put words in his mouth either way, and instead of being zapped directly into Socrates’ house, I find myself instead in a field in central Greece with no means of getting anywhere? I would probably immediately abandon my task.

Obviously all of this is not relevant to this blogging question, but I have actually found it so difficult to think of a time period I would like to go back to. Maybe I would want to go back a few years before Gutenberg and beat him to the punch, or visit William Morris and tell him he’s doing it all right, or tell the women at Cuala Press that I want in… I guess I would be more interested in experiencing a different period of book history rather than being the harbinger of … well, death seems too strong. A harbinger of something though.

I think I ultimately agree with Polina. Maybe I would go back just a couple of years and pat my younger-self’s head, and tell myself that everything is going to be okay, and that we’ll get through this tough time together.

This video of a medieval helpdesk is not necessarily relevant, but still pretty great.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Question 10- Time Travel and the Future of the Book

If I could travel back in time, I would visit Ancient Greece. Primarily, somewhere around the fourth century BCE, since I would wish to see the sights in their original glory while I am there. Presuming that I am able to converse in the native language, the really important aspect that I would tell the people about the future of the book is that reading and writing substantially increases as a form of communication and information. I would tell them that in the future nearly everyone can read. I believe somewhere near 84 percent of the world population is literate, which would be significantly higher than the past. The people may be shocked to hear such facts and it would be interesting to gauge their reactions. Every year this number increases as books and literature are progressively becoming important tools in developing and educating young minds. The act of reading is also not limited to scribes and bureaucratic vocations; people read constantly for entertainment and learning. 

I suppose the biggest difference I would tell them is that books are a new invention. No longer do we use clay, wax, and wooden tablets; we refine trees into thin sheets called paper and we bind these papers together to form a codex or book. Words are imprinted on these pages with ink (oils and dyes). Apart from this traditional book, the people of the future are continually bombarded with advertisements and textual forms of communication daily as well. While emails, blogs, and social media may not be considered books, the information that is shared seamlessly and instantly in my world would be fascinating to express.

In addition, as a final remark before I departed, the reason I would tell them all these facts would be to encourage the historians and authors to continue writing, to record as much information about their society and ideas as they can. In the future, thousands of years later, their writing, stories and accounts will be discovered and studied. I would stress the importance of words; they are tools to understanding their culture. These symbols shall provide us with the most direct interpretations, thoughts, and events of their world.