Writing old and new

As I browsed through a bookstore today, I listened to a podcast discussing Arabic literature. The Arabic world is seeing resurgence in reading. Book sales and reading had declined after the 1980s after the fall of the USSR when political writing became unfashionable. Now a younger generation has picked it up again but with different expectations. A lot of issues are coming out in Arabic literature including controversial ones like gay rights. But one curious thing is that authors have generally been reluctant to touch on recent experiences like those of the Arab Spring.

The reason seems to be that authors prefer to deal with topics which have happened a while ago and on which people have already made up their minds. Things which are still evolving are dangerous territory. Perhaps the authors themselves are trying to make up their minds about them.

Notre_Dame_de_Paris,_East_View_140207_1

Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris

I am reminded of Victor Hugo who set his work, The Hunchback of Notre Dame in the Paris of 1492, over 300 years in the past. There he could safely put prophetic dialogue into the mouths of his character. The learned archdeacon Claude when faced with the Gutenberg Bible declared its impact on the Church,

The one shall destroy the other. The book will kill the edifice.

This as Hugo declared was

the spoken word and the written word taking fright at the printed word

What was so important about the printed word? Since the time of these words, the printed word or its digital incarnation has far outshone both the written and the spoken. In the modern mind, it carries the weight of authority, the imprint of respectability.

Perhaps this is why even though everyone knows how to deal with unreliable people and rumor mongers in our personal lives, we are still struggling to cope with the epidemic of fake news.

P.S. This is totally off topic, but I listened to a great radio play on the BBC, The Progress of the Soul of Lizzie Calvin, I would like to recommend it here.

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