Monday, July 13, 2009

The End of an Era

It is a sad day indeed, my fellow monks. Today in Ulm, a 'publisher' has announced plans to produce a book. Not The Book, mind you. Just a book.

How did this happen?

Many of you are already aware of the crisis that grips our noble profession from the Urals to the Fenlands. Many of you have already felt the effects of the many scriptorium closings and downsizings that are sweeping our feudal territories. Every day, the riders bring fresh news of another abbey in peril, another group of loyal scribes cast out in the cold with no market for their highly honed skills, another cut in the livelihood we have known for so many centuries now.

Where is the culprit? Some say it is Lucifer himself, come to the earth to destroy the livelihoods of the faithful copiers of The Book. They say he has come to destroy those who have for so long labored under the most difficult of working conditions in order to preserve the illusion of an unbroken line from The Book back to the ancients--whose writings we revere even as we manipulate them--to serve our Lord's needs and wishes.

Some say it is the economic depression of the past eleven hundred years that makes it difficult for the scriptoria to survive in these uncertain times. We know this to be false, however, for even as the entire economy of Europe has been crushed by the collapse of the Roman Empire, the fledgling scriptoria found a niche that they have preserved till this dark day.

The need for providing the same information, faithfully copied (except for the few tell-tale 'mistakes' included to provide dating information for later generations of scholars) over and over has not substantially diminished. One can simply never have enough hand-written copies of The Book.

And yet, change is coming. It is, perhaps, dear devotees, already here.

If the truth be known, the real culprit, the real reason that scriptoria are struggling to survive in the market today is the invention of the printing press.

Yes, that wild and wacky device that we thought would only be good for printing Book illustrations, pernicious pictures and soap advertisements appears to have caught on as an easy-to-use tool for anyone who can put three words together in a sentence and wants to see those words in print.

No longer does one have to join the Church, become celibate and live in cold, isolation and poverty in order to see their words in print. Now anyone--even females--can 'print' up hundreds or even thousands of copies of anything!

Worse, they can write even more and print that up as well. Where are the social barriers that kept the scriptural tradition alive and safe? Sure, literacy is still a privilege of the wealthy, but God knows their numbers are increasing as the Feudal system begins to collapse. And, while it is true that members of the new literate class still have to learn to read and write, where are the controls on the distribution of their works? There are none, alas.

Oh sure, these guys started out by printing The Book, but how long will it be before they are printing political messages, love poetry and--that cursed dog from hell--fiction? Some writers have already taken to writing epic poetry in the vernacular. Where will it end? We already have troubadours. Can science or novels be far off?

One Abbot--who declined to be named for this story--went so far as to say that "now, the focus is on promoting new 'writing' and creating secular 'journalists' while ignoring the value of scribes who have spent years honing their craft."

"It's not just the recession," he said, "A way of making a living is going away."

No comments: