Tuesday, September 23, 2014

From 7th Century Irish Monks to Fifty Shades of Grey

Thriller Guy’s sermon, lecture, rant of the day sprang (sprang?) from a remark by one of his readers, and after research -- too much research -- splintered into a number of blogs that began to circle on TG’s computer screen. Eventually, after a journey through 20 or so centuries, we end up home. So buckle your seatbelts and put on your thinking caps, you’re in for a bumpy read.

Blog reader and writer pal Mark sent TG this suggestion in an email.  “I have been wondering about whether mathematicians still write their formulas on chalkboards or greaseboards. I have a scene in my novel with dueling mathematicians and needed to know. Turns out they mostly do it on computers these days, but some old school types still like the smell of chalk dust. Anyway, it begs the question, how do writers stay ahead of technology in today's world, where today's new feature is old news next week. Tell us, oh Thriller Guy, what's a diligent author to do in this golden age of discovery?” For some reason this sent TG’s mind into the world of technology and how these days we usually consider that word in terms of computers, iPhones, stealth airplanes, advanced medical procedures, electric cars, self driving vehicles, etc. etc. Machines, in other words. But TG began thinking of the technology of deep time, i.e. the invention of copper allowing ancient Egyptians the technology to make saws that could cut giant blocks of stone, which could then be piled up into pyramids, and other ancient technologies which were modern and cutting edge for their time. But not necessarily machines or physical objects. Technology that springs directly from the intellect. For example…

Blog Number One. Around the year 370 A.D. Augustine of Hippo, who was not yet a
St. Augustine
St. Ambrose
Christian nor a saint but a famous philosopher, had gone to see Aurelius Ambrosius, who was later to become a saint himself, Ambrose, in Milan. Ambrose was very famous, and it was the custom to allow people to come into the rooms of the famous and stand and watch them as they went about their business. The rule was you couldn’t speak or in any way interrupt these great minds while they were at work. So there’s Augustine, standing in a small crowd of people, watching Ambrose reading a book. After a few minutes it came as a shocking revelation to Augustine that Ambrose was not only reading his book in complete silence, he wasn’t even moving his lips!  Augustine would write about this at a later date, saying, “Now, as he read, his eyes glanced over the pages and his heart searched out the sense, but his voice and tongue were silent.” What struck TG as amazing was the realization that silent reading was an “invention,” that Ambrose was seeing something he had never seen before and until this time did not exist. Up until then, everyone read out loud. (For a number of reasons that TG will get to.) So silent reading itself was a kind of “technology,” an invention. But before TG could write about this, he needed to do some research to get his dates and other facts correct, which led to…

Blog Number Two: research, and the dangers, pleasures and profits of submerging oneself into the warm, distracting intellectual pools of the Internet and its wonders. TG is intimitaly familiar with this danger, or at least his alter ego Allen Appel is. Appel is, among other things, an historical novelist. (See and buy his Pastmaster time travel series here. You’ll be glad you did.) Historical novelists spend huge swaths of time on the Internet looking stuff up. Imagine the face of a clock in an old movie as the hands circle the clock face indicating hours flying by by as TG starts out to look up a few simple dates and along the way wastes an entire day
Lincoln's boots
on this blog post instead of reading the books he is paid to read or writing the book he has pledged to write. And it is always thus: when writing a novel you stop to look up the size of Lincoln’s boot and surface back to reality  hours later, dazed, but now knowing everything from the invention of shoes to the amazing modern day technology -- there’s that word again -- of the shoemaking industry. (For the record, Lincoln wore a size 14.)

Back to Augustine and Ambrose. Some interesting facts, because there are always interesting facts; who can resist them?

Ambrose: There is a legend that as an infant a swarm of bees settled on his face while he lay in his cradle, leaving behind a drop of honey. His father considered this a sign of his future eloquence and honeyed tongue. For this reason, bees and beehives often appear in the saint's symbology. He is alleged to have founded an institution for virgins in Rome. Because he refused to be drawn into a conflict over which particular church had the right liturgical form, he said, "When I am at Rome, I fast on a Saturday; when I am at Milan, I do not. Follow the custom of the church where you are." Which has come down to us as the saying, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”

Augustine. From Wikipedia: “As a youth Augustine lived a hedonistic lifestyle for a time, associating with young men who boasted of their sexual exploits with women and men. They urged the inexperienced boys, like Augustine, to seek experience or to make up stories about their experiences in order to gain acceptance. It was during this period that he uttered his famous prayer, ‘Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet.’ At about the age of 19, Augustine began an affair with a young woman in Carthage. Possibly because his mother wanted him to marry a person of his class, the woman remained his lover for over thirteen years and gave birth to his son Adeodatus who was viewed as extremely intelligent by his contemporaries. In 385, Augustine abandoned his lover in order to prepare himself to marry an heiress.” His conversion to Christianity was prompted by a childlike voice he heard telling him to "take up and read" (Latin: tolle, lege), which he took as a divine command to open the Bible and read the first thing he saw. Which was, “Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof.” So that was the end of Augustine’s life of concubines and lechery. His feast day is August 28, the day on which he died. He is considered the patron saint of brewers, printers, theologians, and sore eyes.

Back to Blog Number One, about technology. When reading about the invention of silent reading, I learned that until the 7th or 8th century all writing -- and by this I mean Latin writing -- there were nospacesbetweenthewords. Think about that. Because books were dictated aloud, the scribes, usually monks, wrote everything down in one long continuous line. (Scripto Continua.) Because when we speak there are no spaces between our words. And it was worse than that, they also didn’t use any punctuation and there was no upper and lower case. But it was the spacing between words thing that led me to…
Blog Number Three: Whereby Thriller Guy continues his rave against those writers who are still putting two spaces between sentences. This practice has often been said to stem from when writers wrote on typewriters, which use what is called a monofaced font. But in reality it goes back centuries before that in rules for typesetters who felt that the extra space between sentences made text more readable. This practice was adhered to until just after World War II when it was abandoned by typesetters, only to be continued by writers using typewriters. Now, in the computer age when spacing is no longer a problem, the only writers who do it are folks who refuse to change, showing that they are old both in years, and old in that they are resistant to change. Thriller Guy has been told that when an editor receives a manuscript where a writer does this, they almost always immediately reject it. So stop it! you idiots, because, as TG has written a number of times, (Blog Number Four) that writers have to perfect their manuscripts in all ways before sending them out. No matter how they may cry out in protest, TG feels that working editors in major publishing houses aren’t looking for great manuscripts to publish, they are looking for ways to reject those manuscripts that are sent to them. And if you show that you’re old fashioned and hard headed, your manuscript is going to get rejected by editors and agents alike. This also extends to those dopes who send TG manuscripts whereby they have decided not to use quotations marks to indicate dialogue, write in second person present tense, or do other foolish stunts because they think it makes them look cool.
It doesn’t.
Which takes me back in full circle to Blog Number One: spacing between words and the invention of silent reading. It turns out that separating the words was an invention of Irish scribes, for a number of reasons. (By doing so they could remember longer passages without having to refer back to the original text so often; because they were often monks sworn to a vow of silence so they couldn’t be muttering to themselves in the library where they were working, and others.) Eventually, the value of silent reading filtered down to the lay classes in a number of interesting ways. You could read books that advocated rebellion and overthrowing the king and not be heard plotting out loud, and finally it allowed and boosted the “circulation and consumption of pornography.” !!!
Thus proving, once again, that everything -- and TG means everything -- always comes back, somehow, to rest in the primal and exciting arms of pornography.
So let this be the lesson: Without spaces between words and those Irish monks who invented the concept, we would have had no Fifty Shades of Grey.
Go, my children, and may the message of Thriller Guy’s words lead you and guide you, forever and amen.

1 comment:

  1. ThanksTGIneverknewthatlittletidbitaboutthelackofspacesbetweenwords.Prettyinteresting!GladIstoppedbytobrowsetoday!