Irene Vallejo-A Vindication Of Books
Irene Vallejo, picture @ elperiodico.com
Today’s sharing from the Blue House of HYGEIA is an excerpt from Irene Vallejo’s ‘The infinity within a reed‘ (El infinito en un junco. La invención de los libros en el mundo antiguo) The invention of the book in the ancient world.
As the English translation has just been published by Knopf-Penguin-Random House with a translation by Charlotte Whittle, this is the last excerpt with our own translation, being the sixth. From the French translation of Anne Plantagenet, Editions de Belles Lettres, 2021.
We strongly invite you to discover Irene Vallejo’s impressive and enjoyable story-telling talent and skillful scholarship embodied within, ‘Papyrus, the invention of books in the ancient world.’
From the introduction
pages 17 and 18
…Nowadays, books are so common for us, so deprived of the prestige of their technical novelty, that the prophets announcing their demise are legion. Regularly, I read with sadness in the newspaper’s articles predicting the extinction of books, replaced by electronical devises, defeated by the vast possibilities of leisure. The most pessimists declare that we are arriving at the end of a period, a true apocalypse of book shops closing and deserted libraries. They seem to insinuate that soon books will be only exhibited behind the windows of ethnological museums’ showcases, together with sharp prehistorical spears. With these images in mind, I venture glancing over the long rows of my library’s books and vinyls. This touching old world is it really on the verge of oblivion?
Are we so sure?
The book overcame the trial of time, demonstrating it was a long-distance runner. Every time we woke up from the dream of our revolutions or of the nightmare of our human catastrophes, the book was always there. As Umberto Ecco says, it belongs to the same category that of the spoon, the hammer, the wheel or the scissors. Since they were invented, we have not found anything better to supplant them.
Of course, technology is dazzling and quite powerful enough to dethrone the ancient monarchies. However, we all lost things-picture, archives, old studies, souvenirs-due to the speed they were aging and became obsolete. There was first, the songs of our old tapes, then the movies recorded with VHS. We made frustrating efforts to collect what technology is busying itself to bring out of fashion. When the DVD appeared, we said that our archival problems were finally resolved forever, but we are new coming back with smaller format discs (like usb- keys), that without fail oblige us to buy new equipment! What is strange, is that we can still read a manuscript patiently copied ten thousand years ago, but it is possible for us to see a video or use a diskette just a few years of age, only if we have kept all of our successive computers and readers, alike a curiosity cabinet located in the attics of our homes.
We ought not to forget that the book has been our ally, for numerous centuries, in a war that is not mentioned in our history textbooks. The struggle to preserve our precious creations: words that are less that an breath; fictions that we invent in order to give a meaning to the chaos and survive it; knowledge, true, false, always provisional, that we extract from the stiff rock of our ignorance.