A Spanglish blog dedicated to the works, ruminations, and mongrel pyrotechnics of Yago S. Cura, an Argentine-American poet, translator, publisher & futbol cretin. Yago publishes Hinchas de Poesia, an online literary journal, & is the sole proprietor of Hinchas Press.
Sunday, September 21, 2008
MANGUEL'S SENSE OF THE MANY BABLYONS, SCRIBES, STYLUS CULTS, & PEN TOTEMS
"Fire pon Babylon" as the reggae psalmists say because hell is a very real place populated by alarmists and kaleidoscope dolts. For example, according to Alberto Manguel in his "A History of Reading" (1996, 177-178).
Sometime in 2350 BCE was the heyday of the Akkadian era when Babylone grew from a village imp into a proper town by the time of the Gilagmesh epic in 2000 BCE. Already by 1800 BCE Babylon was becoming known as Hammurabi's Bablyon because the famous system of laws decreed there were informing the behavior of Babylonian men. By this time, Babylon had become the New York City of the ancient world. In 689 BCE the Assyrians attacked and decimated the city and not long after Nebuchadnezzar helped to rebuild it. In addition, Bablyon is the city where Alexander the Great died in 323 BC and where cuneiform, or the world's most primitive form of writing, took root.
Therefore, I believe I understand a little better why dancehall reggae artists invoke the destruction of Babylon and why that image is so integral to their message. And Babylon carries all this luggage even before we talk about its most famous attribute as failed stairway experiment to textual heaven, the place where we learned to all talk the same language and almost outsmarted our cosmic line supervisors. Which is why, I say, "Fire pon Babylon," indeed.
More importantly, any discussion about Babylon must include a description of the importance of scribes and the caste they occupied. And it must include a discussion of the death of the author being the birth of the reader and that a text becomes complete once the author disappears. Maybe to write means to disappear within what you write. Maybe writing creates a space within the text for the writer, or for extinguishing the author from a text. In other words, readers recreate something created by a person whose creation is contingent upon their death and pathological erasure. Forgive me my trespasses with language; I got something to prove with words.
But just to give you an idea: the death of the author has taken 2000 years, or maybe the author has been dying for 2000 years. What I do know is that scribes were not journalists, they were functionaries, like accountants but with shaved heads and scrotums. And even though they had an important function in society, by no means were they allowed to express their opinion or bias; for all intents and purposes they were dictaphones of sponges of speech that soaked up all that was said, carefully cuneiformed it into notation existence, and inscribed it on clay slabs.
Which might be an excellent place to start with the stylus cults. Stylus cults are my personal phrase for the cult of the writer (R.I.P., David Foster Wallace). Now, while I wholeheartedly agree with the tenents of the cult of the writer, I choose to be critical and to attempt a definition, however circumspect. According to Manguel there are at least two types of readers,
The reader for whom the text justifies its existence
in the act of reading itself, with no ulterior motive
...and that of the reader with an ulterior motive for
whom the text is a vehicle towards another function.
It is readers that use a text as a vehicle towards another function that make libraries indispensable. I think that I might want to include that definition in with other definitions of what a library actually is: a repository of books as vehicles with which to analyze and criticize a source or sources or original text. Maybe the repository part of that last definition owes something to the efforts of the Library of Alexandria. One of the more swashbuckling myths regarding the Library at Alexandria had to do with the aggressive collection method that was used, "By the reign of Ptolemy III, no single person could have read the entire library. By royal decree, all ships stopping at Alexandria had to surrender any books they were carrying; these books were copied, and the originals (sometimes the copies) were returned to their owners while the duplicates (sometimes the originals) were kept in the library" (1996, 189). They must have had quite the state police administration to search boats for copies of codices or scrolls.
And no discussion of the Library can be really had without discussing Callimachus and his organizational system. I mean, he believed that the knowledge of human kind could be reduced to ten classifications. The Dewey Decimal System is an elaboration, an intellectual response to the system devised by Callimachus.
Callimachus divided the library into shelves or tables
(pinakoi) arranged in eight classes or subjects: drama,
oratory, lyric poetry, legislation, medicine, history,
philosophy and miscellany. He separated the longer works
by having them copied into several shorter sections call-
ed 'books', so as to have smaller rolls that would be more
practical to handle. (1996, 191)