Monday, May 23, 2005

The Oxyrhynchus Papyri

NASA science uncovers texts of Trojan Wars, early Gospel:

"There also is an abundance of life's everyday stuff and miscellanea--tax records, marriage contracts, horoscopes, erotic musings, advice on how to buy a donkey and advice on how to cast a decent magic spell."

Many people have pointed to write ups about the Oxyrhynchus Papyri over the last few weeks - and it is a miraculous thing that these texts are being deciphered. Despite the fact that many of the pieces by the literati of antiquity (antiquitati?) are mere fragments, they represent a huge increase in the available material for these writers.

The thing that got me, though, is the less publicised vernacular writing that has been discovered: the donkey-buying instructions, the erotic musings.

People write; letters, notes, diaries, and now blogs. And the reason I started - and that I've continued - to write here is that I became fascinated by the views into the private worlds that personal writings afford. I started reading these cross-sections of peoples' lives, and became fascinated - and it started to feel like voyeurism to read other's blogs, without being brave enough to put my own words out there. It is extraordinary - and yet entirely mundane - to think that this instinct that drives so many people to empty their heads through writing has been kicking around for at least the last thousand years.

But what happens to all of our vernacular writing now it exists out on the web? The minute the oil runs out... or the infrastructure collapses, it will be gone. There will be no archaeologists in some undertermined future poring over the telling written miscellanea of our early 21st century lives; it will be just so many magnetic fragments on siezed-up, corroded harddrives.

Even amongst all of the noise, and documenting, we are erasing ourselves from history.

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