Bread, books, and the nature of Things

That last post was not what I meant to say when I sat down to write it.   
But I'm trying to discipline myself to be less disciplined about my writing, especially here -- to remember that thoughts can be worthy of a place in a conversation without needing to be fully developed into arguments -- so when my thoughts started wandering off in a different direction than I originally meant for them to go, I followed them there.

What I meant to say was something like: isn't it interesting how increasing the availability and decreasing the level of artisanal investment in a Thing by introducing mechanized production leads to fundamentally new ways  for the end user to relate to those Things?

Like, it's hard to imagine someone eating communion hosts by the handful out of a bag while watching Downton Abbey when communion hosts were only available from convent bakeries supplying local parishes that they knew by name.  But once you're selling communion hosts as an undifferentiated food product available for order over the internet, it seems almost inevitable, even if you're not marketing them as a snack food.

I've been reading about how the evolution of the book arts, particularly the introduction of movable type, revolutionized Western culture in the last half millennium or so.  When all books had to be copied by hand, the only books worth copying were Very Important Books (principally, THE Very Important-est of Books), so that was mostly what people (who could read) read.  Once you can PRINT books, however, you can print all kinds of books -- not just Bibles -- and so you can read all kinds of books for all kinds of reasons, "rac[ing] through all kinds of material, seeking amusement rather than edification" (Darnton 1990, p. 133).  Which is not to say that there were no such things as trashy novels before print and widespread literacy, but the share of reading taken up with trivia and tripe can only have gone up once the production means abounded.

With both books and bread, the possibility of mass production led to the desacralization of the Thing.

I'm trying to figure out how to think about this without over-romanticizing the past, suggesting that bread or books ought to be treated as especially sacred in and of themselves and that this sanctity ought to be protected by keeping them rare.  I think it's a good thing that books and bread are widely available for almost anyone who wants them, for whatever reason they want them; I think the world needs more, not less, books and bread.  And yet, at least for those of us who have more than enough of books and bread, that overabundance is something of a loss, isn't it?  Is there a way for us to get back in touch with the Things that have become commodities, while not turning our back on the potential that modern technology and economics hold for making the blessings of these Things available to people who might not otherwise have them?


Interesting Stuff

Books! Books! Books!

  • Bookfinder
  • BestBookBuys
  • Bookcrossing
  • Book Sale Finder
  • Library Thing
  • Good Reads
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