Digital Genres Two

(I’m going to note-take more lightly this afternoon; I just can’t keep up and pay attention while going easy on my right thumb.)

David Rosenberg is now talking about the promiscuous comparisons between the Talmud and the internet. He’s beginning with an introduction to the Talmud. He’s usefully spelling out many, many distinctions that can differentiate Talmud from hypertext or hyperlinked weblogs.

He sums up by noting that although some comparative points can be made, the Talmud isn’t just like the internet. By eliding the real differences, we neither honor the Talmud nor elevate the ’net.

Now, Theo van den Hout of the Oriental Institute is discussing knowledge management in the really ancient (1325 BCE) world. Evidently, the Hittites had a very efficient form of recording and filing information; unfortunately, they didn’t record their system, so we don’t know how the (information) architecture worked. Although they worked with a conventional tablet size (roughly 8.5 x 11 or 14), they also kept small post-it size tablets (tablettes?) and medium-sized pillow-shaped tablets. We have about 35,000 tablets and fragments of tablets from the hittite Empire, reflecting a storage capacity of about 7,000 tablets, by van den Hout’s estimate.

Most were stored on in stacks of shelves, sometimes with labels indicating the title; some were kept in niches, chests, and jars. Van den Hout points out that light for reading was a problem. Sunlight from the left-hand side is ideal for reading cuneiform, but the tablets were stored in dark rooms; either one tried to read cuneiform by flickering torchllight (a hassle) or one carted a tablet outdoors to read (another hassle).

Colophons give the state of completion, the series, title, scribe, and supervisor for each tablet. Likewise, we sometimes find lists of the contents of a given shelf, with the state of completeness.

Now Seth Sanders is going, and his target is where the “newness” of digital genres comes from, and what a “digital genre” might be. He’s beginning with Frank Moore Cross’s history of the emergence of alphabetic writing from logosyllabic writing. Logosyllabic writing seems to have been general; alphabetic writing seems to have originated from a single source. He suggests that the elitist societies of the ancient world were logosyllabic, but that alphabetic writing engendered a more open, democratic culture.

Seth attacks the reasoning that underwrote this supposition. Empirical research points out a conclusion entirely opposite to Cross’s position.

He takes autographs as an index of linguistic function. Logosyllabic texts cite witness lists, which were authenticated with seals (for those who had them) or fingernail-imprints. In Greece (supposedly the site of higher rationality indigenous to alphabetic culture) one might mortgage a plot of land by planting a huge rock on it — not by filing a document with a signature (for instance).

The first signed alphabetic document dates from November 17 in 446 BCE, in Palestine: a deed of ownership for land. The ancestors of the autographically-signed deed were stamp-sealed Aramaic texts, mediating the Egyptian logosyllabic deeds and the Aramaic autographically-signed deed. The function of a signature doesn’t have to do with an ideology intrinsic to semiotic systems like logosyllabic or alphabetic writing, but the medium: clay or papyrus.

Daniel Headrick is now talking about alphabetical order, but I’m too tired to type. It’s a shame, because this is a fascinating record of the history of alphabetical order.

2 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Aha, now this is the kind of thing I can get my teeth into. Wish I’d known it wasn’t all going to be lit-critty theoretical stuff. Which is fine if you like that sort of thing, but I don’t, much.

    How is the history of alphabetical order being discussed without first discussing the history of the alphabet?
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  2. As it turned out I discussed the history of the alphabet then Prof. Headrick discussed the history of alphabetical order. But chronological order is only one way to file things.

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