That Which is Bread

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? – Isaiah

Tag: Books

Manners, morals and printers

James Joyce

I’m a bit ashamed to admit that, late in life, I’m finally reading James Joyce’s Dubliners in its entirety. I’ve read “The Dead”, the famous final story in the collection, several times all the way through, and its heartbreaking final monologue many times — but never the entire book. Looking up its history I found that Joyce first submitted the manuscript to a publisher in 1905, but the book wasn’t finally published until 1914. Twice a publisher accepted the manuscript then rejected it for immoral or offensive content. In one case the publisher had no problem with the stories, but the printer refused to set some of them. This may mean that printers were once more moral than they are today, but I suspect that it also reflects a time when printers were often publishers and editors in their own right, not the technicians that they’ve become today.
I’ve made a bet with myself that I’ll read the entire book and not be able even to guess what it was that the publishers and printers of the early 20th century found so immoral that they would refuse publication. Thus have manners and morals changed in the past hundred years.

A (qualified) lament for the Britannica

Another victory for digital media: the Encyclopedia Britannica will not be printing another edition. Only their online version and some subsidiary publications will continue.

I’m not sure how I feel about this. My reflexive response is to sigh “Another good thing, done gone on.” But I’m very much part of the process that ended the print edition: we have a set of Britannicas on our shelves (bought at a yard sale years ago), and we hardly ever touch them any more. Instead we turn to Wikipedia.

When I read about the Britannica, I briefly wondered whether I should Do the Right Thing and subscribe to their online edition. As an experiment I looked up a couple of items that I’d recently looked up on Wikipedia. In all cases the Wikipedia article was more thorough and, as far as I could tell, at least as accurate. Admittedly the articles were a bit off the beaten path (one was about Yasujiro Ozu), but it made wonder what I’d be getting for my money with the Britannica.

So perhaps the Britannica, venerable as it is, has just been superseded.

The collaborative nature of Wikipedia is what makes it so great, but I’ve found some cases that show the need for caution. I once looked up the Orthodox “Tollhouse” theory of the afterlife on two separate occasions, and found two substantially different articles with two very different slants. Presumably different partisans in this contested subject had managed to seize the controls temporarily.

But then, I think we always need to be careful about any “authoritative” source; the Britannica tends to enshrine the opinions of the authorities who write its articles.

I suspect, too, that the Tollhouse example is an extreme case: the subject is both hotly contested and obscure. I doubt that the Tollhouse entry is as closely monitored (if it’s monitored at all) as, say, an article on the American Civil War or the disappearance of Amelia Earhart.

So while the news about the Britannica gives me a wistful, mono no aware feeling, I have to admit that the feeling is mostly empty sentiment.

(…and, of course, the mono no aware link in this post is to Wikipedia.)