17.335 a parable of preservation

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk)
Date: Sat Oct 25 2003 - 04:28:12 EDT

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                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 17, No. 335.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                         Submit to: humanist@princeton.edu

             Date: Sat, 25 Oct 2003 08:52:23 +0100
             From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk>
             Subject: a parable of preservation

    Northrop Frye, in his undergraduate lecture course from which The Great
    Code came, once recounted the story in Jeremiah 36, in which the Lord
    instructs the prophet to "take a scroll and write on it all the words that
    I have spoken to you against Israel and Judah and all the nations, from the
    day I spoke to you, from the days of Josiah until today". He gets a scribe,
    Baruch son of Neriah, who duly writes down what Jeremiah dictates --
    probably on papyrus, Frye remarked. The scroll is read to the people. The
    king, Jehoiakim son of Josiah of Judah, hears about this and sends for the
    scroll. Jehudi son of Nethaniah son of Shelemiah son of Cushi brings it
    into the king's presence and begins reading from it. "Now the king was
    sitting in his winter apartment (it was the ninth month), and there was a
    fire burning in the brazier before him. As Jehudi read three or four
    columns, the king would cut them off with a penknife and throw them into
    the fire in the brazier, until the entire scroll was consumed in the fire
    that was in the brazier." Consider, Frye said, what has been preserved: not
    the king or his palace or any of his works, rather the insubstantial words
    written on one of the least permanent materials available.

    There' s more to the story: "Then Jeremiah took another scroll and gave it
    to the secretary Baruch son of Neriah, who wrote on it at Jeremiah's
    dictation all the words of the scroll that King Jehoiakim of Judah had
    burned in the fire; and many similar words were added to them." But this
    serves the point I wish to make about cultural memory and its means. It
    would be better for us all, would it not, if we thought about digital
    preservation and the digital library (whatever that is) with a critical
    sense of irony. "Learning", Gregory Bateson remarked, "leads to an
    overpacked mind. By return to the unlearned and mass-produced egg, the
    ongoing species again and again clears its memory banks to be ready for the
    new." (Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity, Cresskill NJ: Hampton Press,
    2002, p. 45.)



    Dr Willard McCarty | Senior Lecturer | Centre for Computing in the
    Humanities | King's College London | Strand | London WC2R 2LS || +44 (0)20
    7848-2784 fax: -2980 || willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk

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