I’m sitting at a public terminal in one of the largest open-stack libraries in the United States. Behind me are rows and rows of shelving with the current issues of thousands of journals in the arts and humanities, including literary and poetry magazines. The curious thing is, I feel almost no urge to go browse them any more. I mean, poems on tree flesh! How retro! How barbaric!
But just now, when I explained this feeling to a librarian friend who stopped by to say hello, her reaction was that expecting everyone to go electronic is unfair. What about all those people over 65? My solution: clay tablets. Ashurbanipal had the right idea. Burn the library down and the “books” just get harder. That’s why we can still read the Epic of Gilgamesh today.
I’m serious. I think a lot about what will and will not survive the inevitable collapse of our civilization. Paper, digital and microform texts seem about equally doomed. “Can you imagine how many tablets that would take, and how much they would collectively weigh?” my friend objects. “How would you ever store them?” “Can you imagine how few texts will really stand the test of time?” I reply. I mean, how many commentaries on Hamlet does the world need?
Perhaps the best way to celebrate the impending one-year anniversary of the launch of this blog would be for me to pick two or three posts out of the 700 or so I’ve “published” here and inscribe them into clay. I used to be half-decent with calligraphy; clay would present an interesting challenge.
In any case, it would be fun to start one’s own clay tablet collection, if for no other reason than to have an excuse to reproduce the warning Ashurbanipal had posted in his library in the 7th century BCE.
Right above the computer monitor here is a wimpy little sign – on paper, of course – that reads, “Thank you for safeguarding the collections with a Library-approved-beverage container.” Yes, that’s right: whoever had these signs made up didn’t even grasp the rules of hyphenation.
Ashurbanipal didn’t thank patrons in advance for their cooperation. His warning read:
May all these gods curse anyone who breaks, defaces, or removes this tablet with a curse which cannot be relieved, terrible and merciless as long as he lives; may they let his name, his seed be carried off from the land; and may they put his flesh in a dog’s mouth.
Who in the 7th century BCE would have guessed that Ashurbanipal’s library would outlast even the gods that were charged with its protection?
The Blogger spellchecker doesn’t even include the word “blog”!? I tell you, this electronic civilization is a flash in the pan.