The Society of Antiquated Buffoons

Love has earth to which she clings
With hills and circling arms about—
Wall within wall to shut fear out.
But Thought has need of no such things,
For Thought has a pair of dauntless wings.

On snow and sand and turf, I see
Where Love has left a printed trace
With straining in the world’s embrace.
And such is Love and glad to be.
But Thought has shaken his ankles free.

Thought cleaves the interstellar gloom
And sits in Sirius’ disc all night,
Till day makes him retrace his flight,
With smell of burning on every plume,
Back past the sun to an earthly room.

His gains in heaven are what they are.
Yet some say Love by being thrall
And simply staying possesses all
In several beauty that Thought fares far
To find fused in another star.

~ Robert Frost ~

A friend of mine made it known that he considers opposition to e-readers “antiquated buffoonery”.  An e-reader is a device that displays electronic files for our reading pleasure.  Thousands of books have been converted to electronic file, and can be downloaded by the hundreds (or the thousands) into an e-reader.  The device itself is usually small in size, and can be easily slipped into a pocket, purse, or carry-on bag.  “Thousands of books in one’s back pocket” – and someone objects?  How could he not be an antiquated buffoon?

Well, on behalf of buffoons everywhere (not just the antiquated ones – because some buffoonery never goes out of style), I’d like to publicly oppose the e-reader and thus, throw my lot in with the technological-ingrates.

Unfortunately, this is no easy task, and it may well end badly for me; I may have to admit, when all is said and done, that I’m opposed simply because of the e-reader’s novelty, or for some other equally irrational reason.  I might not be able to put my disagreement into words or frame my case with logic.

Nevertheless, disagree I will.  And my plight isn’t as hopeless as some would think, though I’m under no illusion that I’ll find some esoteric wisdom in Holy Scriptures providing a universal denunciation of these things.  And further still, I seriously doubt that whatever tenuous reason I devise will be enough to convict the majority of moderns to give up a practice they’ve become accustomed to.  But, all these things aside, I think we buffoons might have a case.  At least, there are a few avenues of investigation left untried; a few stones left unturned.  It will be my task in this blog (and my duty as an avowed traditionalist) to consider them.

I think we’ll be fairly safe in dismissing the pragmatic arguments out of hand.  For example, some of us may have extensive libraries already, with thousands of books.  It would be a shame to start building all over again, only this time, with a library of electronic files instead of paper.   But this is mere growing pains and the sooner it’s gotten over with, the better (so the e-reader advocate will say).   There’s certainly no reason to halt progress because of a few lazy librarians.

Well, what of the fact that this shift in format will cause many hard working publishers (and others who make their living in the book industry) to lose their jobs?   But industries come and go.  We don’t hear anyone complaining about cars today (though they’ve done serious damage to the ferrier and blacksmith).  Let these unfortunates reimmerse themselves into the work force and learn new trades.

But how about the way books feel in my hands?  No e-reader can accomplish that familiar comfort.  Further, when reading books, I am accustomed to finding the pages with information on them, based on the shape of the book, the spacing of the margins, and how far into it my desired subject lies.  To collapse this objection into one statement, it might be asked if the e-readers are capable of providing the same services as paper books.  To this, the e-reader advocate would reply, “yes!  We can do all that and more!”  With search features and “dog-ear” features, and e-highlighters, these objections can be met.  And if the antiquarian still objects, it might be pointed out that, over time, should he have the patience for it, he would find these additional benefits of the e-reader prove superior to traditional books.

So, it’s best to avoid these pragmatic arguments, as they’re not very strong, even if it pains us to admit it.

But, where do we turn from here?

There is one objection that borders on the pragmatic, though I think it bears more consideration than the others.  A traditional book requires nothing but a small amount of light, and the ability to read.  There is no more human society than that, required.  There is no need for electricity, internet, or power sources.  E-books, on the other hand, are fashioned such that, to utilize them, one must live in a modernist society, with a ready network of, not just power, but the internet also, and a myriad of other elements I haven’t thought of.

In a post apocalyptic world, should you be fortunate enough to have survived, you could climb to the roof of a deserted skyscraper, and enjoy a good book, while looking down on the zombie-ravaged cityscape.  Not so with an e-reader.  When its batteries have died (or if you drop it while running from a pack of cannibals), you’re out of luck.

“But this is all absurd posturing” the e-book advocate will reply.  “Modernism will never collapse, and the only time we might find ourselves without a ready power source is on a camping trip, and even then, we can have portable solar panels, car-chargers, or if we really have to rough it, an extra battery (the charge lasts forever anyway, so we can go quite a while without power).”

But it’s my point that the e-reader advocate is, at base, relying on the self-sustainability of modernism, and the industrial society.  The e-reader can only exist within this socialized infrastructure.  It can never stand independent in the same way a good paper novel can.

And, this leads to my most earnest objection, though the e-reading advocate (who, as we’ve already noted, is besotted with modernism) will likely dismiss it as the most silly:

To put it simply, I’ve become sentimentally attached to many of my books (if not all of them).  You cannot hand off an electronic file to someone with the same sentimental attachment possible with books.  Furthermore, I have an entire shelf in my library, dedicated solely to the books that have been autographed for me by the authors.   I make it a point to try to meet authors and get them to sign my books.  No author can sign an electronic file.

But even beyond this, I’d like to argue that there is a sentiment involved in the book itself, that is missing from the electronic text.  The author (presumably) has some say over the binding, publication style, and illustrations.  There is something to the written work, a “soul” if you will, that is missing in the electronic files.   There’s also a smell to old novels that adds to the nostalgia.

The e-readers are one more step down man’s path to complete abolition, and the only good reason I can think of to oppose them, is my feeling of sentiment and nostalgia.

These may not be very good reasons, in the end.  The best I can do (maybe) is form a society for antiquated buffoons like myself, and we can lament the passing of the old ways, and maybe write about it in old books; and for my part, I’ll use a quill for a pen, just to spite the modernists!

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10 Responses to The Society of Antiquated Buffoons

  1. Matt Parrott says:

    I’ve been called upon by my brothers in the Fellowship of Digital Aristocrats to respond to this benighted tomfoolery.

    1. Modernity

    “But this is all absurd posturing” the e-book advocate will reply. “Modernism will never collapse, and the only time we might find ourselves without a ready power source is on a camping trip, and even then, we can have portable solar panels, car-chargers, or if we really have to rough it, an extra battery (the charge lasts forever anyway, so we can go quite a while without power).”

    But it’s my point that the e-reader advocate is, at base, relying on the self-sustainability of modernism, and the industrial society. The e-reader can only exist within this socialized infrastructure. It can never stand independent in the same way a good paper novel can.

    The modern printing press is very much a product of modernity, too. Contemporary books are not lovingly bound with a human touch. They’re cranked out in massive sinister modern machines and spewed forth by a sinister framework of mail-order warehouses and monopolistic corporate franchises.

    I think a more thoughtful analysis of modernity will show that e-books are created and produced with distributed and open standards which are actually more resilient to collapse scenarios than books. After all, it’s quite possible to “smash the presses”, but one would have to smash the cell phone towers, take rockets to the satellites, and remove all of the billions of perfectly durable and resilient mobiles, e-readers, laptops, and desktops.

    I sincerely believe that the digital copies of the great works will outlive the copies of the great works scribbled on flammable, biodegradable, dehydrated plant pulp. The coming decades will bring a democratization of technology, one in which fully decentralized mesh networks replace conventional institutional networks and one where the digital devices themselves become waterproof, solar-powered, disposable, ubiquitous commodities.

    I reckon I share your fancy for books as artwork. Unfortunately, I couldn’t possibly afford to replace even a fraction of my mass-produced book collection with hand-woven masterpieces…much less my Alexandrian expanse of digital volumes.

    That brings me to…

    2. Economics

    I would still be a neocon Republican scumbag were it not for digital publishing. I would have never been able to skim about through the vast pantheon of rare works were it not for pirated PDFs and OCR’d text files. While I was indeed compelled to purchase myself an attractive physical copy of Julius Evola’s “The Mystery of the Grail”, that was only after years and years and years of digging my way through e-books which I could have never possibly hoped to have found…much less afforded…under the old order.

    At the very best, I would have perhaps lovingly purchased myself a couple hardcover editions of Pat Buchanan’s lukewarm milquetoast sophistry.

    My colleagues and I have a challenge for you. We challenge you to take a picture of your mountain of books by the authors you claim regularly to be influenced by. I strongly suspect that you read most of them online. I strongly suspect that you’ve rather ironically arrived at your Traditionalist worldview at the behest of a literary and philosophical tradition which had been almost entirely purged from America’s libraries and entirely purged from America’s bookstores.

    I accuse you, with my finger pressed against your nose, of being almost entirely the philosophical, ideological, and political product of the digital revolution in publication which was altogether impossible for you to discover in its depth, much less afford in its breadth, before the Internet.

    I accuse you of being an unwitting archaeo-futurist, and I offer you an open invitation to join our Fellowship of Digital Aristocrats after you realize the error of your ways, publicly recant, and disband your misguided organization.

  2. shotgunwildatheart says:

    Here’s some:

    Some more:

    This is just a sample of my library.

  3. shotgunwildatheart says:

    Regardless of my faults as a man, I object to the e-readers. Even were I soulless automaton, produced and bred in a satanic (and inhuman) network of machines, and dependent on them for life – I’d still object.

    Progress doesn’t necessarily mean advances in utility.

    Don’t ask me to distinguish between those healthy technological advances that I gladly use, and those I abstain from for reasons that seem merely superstitious. I can’t provide a rational standard at this point.

    Who knows but that you techno-crats may spark a traditionalist renaissance, if only in opposition to the eager acceptance of “transcendent” technological tendencies.

  4. Matt Parrott says:

    Well, if you count my remaining Lighthouse Literature inventory, I’m still competitive with you. But I don’t actually own those, so I can’t really count them.

    Up until two years ago, my book collection was legendary. I had over 200 of them. I made a decision to abide by “simple living” principles which have compelled me to reduce my entire inventory to the following…

    http://www.swarmstrategies.com/uploads/antiques.jpg

    That’s it. I’ve disposed of everything else. To your point, the books which survived the purge were actually kept because I figured they could come in handy in a collapse context.

    The “How to Start Your Own Country” book is my only truly sentimental selection, as my dad let me buy it when I was 12 and I fondly remember waiting eagerly for a book on how to create a country. There were several books I was sentimental about, but they didn’t survive the purge.

    The “simple living” purge affected my technology, too. I went from having a veritable “control center” of tech gadgets to having one modest Acer laptop running a very stripped down Linux distro.

    I ditched a bunch of my wardrobe, dumped two giant crates of cables and gadgets on Craigslist, and got rid of a bunch of other stuff that I can’t take with me.

  5. Brandon says:

    Look at it this way, us men of substance and quality can still read real books, while the proles can download their popular trash and trendy nonsense onto e-readers, saving many valuable trees in the process. As an agrarian, this makes sense. Let the unwashed masses fool with their toys, mastery of the Book will always be a mark of a true Aristocrat of the Soul.

  6. Hognutz says:

    I’ll take a traditional book any day……..poofters can keeps their toys.

  7. Fr. John+ says:

    You all miss the point. Perhaps because you are not yet married men, and have not met the wrath of the bibliophile’s wife, at max overload. For peace in the family, when the phrase, ‘NOT ONE MORE BOOK!’ is uttered, the advent of a Kindle was as manna from Heaven. Or, perchance using the Nintendo DS that one child made/harassed me to buy, to play Professor Layton, can now be a model of more mature pursuits, when reading the ‘100 Greatest Books’ via this small machine.

    I adore old books. But, at a minimum of $20 for each, with their mold/mildew, and fragile covers, it is the TEXT that speaks as well as the tactile coverings. Having found that many, many of the older ‘copyright free’ books are either free, or a measly $1., I began to read/download books that had always been out of reach. And, as a HS parent, it is far cheaper to do Robinson Curriculum via an ‘e-reader’ than it is to print reams of old books, only to have them read and tossed in a week to 10 days for voracious students.

    Use technology wisely, as with all created things. Sure, find those out of print/rare tomes while hunting through antique stores, used book shops. But see a blessing as a blessing. It’s far easier to carry the Bible, Illiad and Odyssey, and the entire Rover Boys in your pocket via an e-reader, than toting the printed tomes in your arms- especially on a train trip across country. So what if, at some time, we are off-grid, and reduced to a 19th-century existence again? We can always paste an icon on the screen, and hang it in a corner, to remind us of what once we possessed in our technological age, now gone….

  8. Pingback: Parrott’s Paradox: A PSA From the Society of Antiquated Buffoons | Shotgun Barrel Straight

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