Not all is gain (ever)

by Paul Burmeister

Gutenberg's technological innovation created losses, as well as much-celebrated gains. "Artificial Writing" put calligraphers out of work, damaging an honorable artform that has since been revived only locally and on a limited scale. Rosalie Moore's splendid Gutenberg in Strasbourg (1995, small print run by Floating Island), which is a series of narrative, episodic poems, proposes that the printer's "Secret Art" risked Gospel truth for the sake of printers' devils' profits. In the first episode, a master copyist complains, "Christ on his cross is not so sad a spectacle / As language misused, cramped and enslaved / In iron moulds and made to serve churls."
An overstated reaction to change, certainly, but also an age-old warning about what happens when a message becomes unmoored from its tradition.