Karl Pohrt: Welcome to "Bookland"
This is no mean feat, and the people who worked at The Ann Arbor News deserve nine deep bows of gratitude from all of us.
The political and social health of a democratic society is dependent on an informed electorate, and the loss of our local paper is deeply troubling. These days our problems seem more complex and intractable than ever. At the same time, we seem to have perfected the ability to numb ourselves into dumb passivity.
In the interest of greater transparency, I should mention that I’m not a neutral observer. I live in Michigan, the epicenter of the global turbocapitalist economic meltdown, and over time my fall-back mindset has become somewhat apocalyptic. When I read about the auto industry, I immediately think of the collapse of the Mayan Empire. Hopefully, this is a temporary madness.
And I do recognize that we are living through an information revolution that is affecting human life in profoundly positive ways. This moment is as pivotal as the invention of movable type 500 years ago, or the shift from an oral to a written culture in Greece at the end of the 5th century BCE.
In the midst of this technological revolution, some bold people are launching AnnArbor.com. Is this something fresh, the next version of our notion of local news? It's possible. With the assistance of the new digital technologies, this is an opportunity to reinvent and deepen our experience of community. This is a risky experiment whose success hinges on developing a new economic model. In the end, I suspect it will all come down to whether or not we can create a different (and more democratic) vehicle for the exchange of information. Where will all this take us? I’m not sure. It should be an interesting—and turbulent—ride.
I think we are well situated in Ann Arbor to rise to the challenge. We’ve got world-class libraries, wonderful new and used bookshops, independent print companies, amazing writers and an engaged citizenry here.
So how should we celebrate the auspicious beginning of this new venture?
Recently I’ve been reading a translation of the Homeric Hymns. The poems (more accurately, songs) were composed orally in the 7th and 6th centuries BCE by wandering bards as prefaces to much longer public recitations. They were highly formulaic, beginning with an invocation to the gods, followed by a declaration of the poet’s intensions, and closing with a request for assistance.
Instead of mentioning any gods, I’d like to invoke the new Library in Alexandria. This seems appropriate given that the collection there showcases all the various technological platforms for the Word and spans the full range of human written expression.
Two weeks ago, my brother Richard returned from a trip to Egypt, where he spent a day at the Library. It's built on the site of the Ancient Library, which was organized at the beginning of the third century BCE by Demetrius of Phaleron. His aim was to possess every book in existence.
My brother described the Library in Alexandria as a beautiful circular building with a granite faÃ§ade engraved with pictograms and letters from all the alphabets in the world. He told me there are rectangular niches in the interior walls of the reading rooms to hold the wooden rollers for papyrus and parchment scrolls. In addition, the Library contains a large collection of codices and digital material. The mission of the Library in Alexandria is to be “a center for dialogue between peoples and civilizations.” It will also be “an instrument for rising to the challenge of the digital age.”
Maybe we could do something like this on a more intimate and modest scale with AnnArbor.com.
I was asked to introduce myself in this first post. After 35 years as a bookseller in Ann Arbor, I’ve just retired. I still believe in reading. In fact, I believe in slow reading. My intention with this blog is to celebrate the culture of bookishness.
Sing, Muse, In your clear voice. (see footnote) Footnote:Cashford, Jules, The Homeric Hymns. (London, 2003), 116.
Photos by Richard Pohrt. Top photo is interior of Library in Alexandria. Bottom photo is exterior of Library in Alexandria.