Thursday, April 15, 2010

Gambling on Books

It may not be true, but I believe that these images, attributed to the Master of the Playing Cards, are reason enough not to worry about the collapse of the publishing industry.

They are prophetic images. It isn't that the Eight of Stags forecasts bounty or that the Nine of Lions (several of which look suspiciously like bears) indicates a prosperous year in trade. They are prophetic because they speak of a time of publishing revolution, the advent of Guttenberg's movable type.*

There may have been a relationship between the Playing Card Master and Johannes. They existed in shared time and place. A direct connection isn't necessary to establish my point: It is only a little sideways step from the realization that individual engravings could be recombined to create a suit of cards and the assembly of a page of poetry from letters. 

There was a subsequent revolution in literacy (and several other sorts of revolutions as well since the new technology made it easier to move ideas from one brain to another). 

We are deep in the middle of a revolution right now. But it doesn't mean the end of the book, or the end of publishing. It might mean the opposite: Another revolution in literacy and a revival of the art of books.

Ideas will continue to circulate, they will retain their status as currency. There may be more than one moment to reflect on the fact that money is imaginary, and fungibility even more so. Since all of my household depends on the publishing trade, I have spent time wondering if I might need to reactivate my skills as a kitchen servant or a goat herd during the turbulence ahead. It probably won't be neccessary if I play my cards right.

* It isn't absolutely for sure that Guttenberg even used movable type. There is clear evidence, however, that the idea was afoot and that it did come into use. 

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