The Grail Code 
Words on paper (the second part)

Now, where were we? We had just been talking about how much work it took to make words appear on a page at the time of Walter Map, and we were probably about to draw some sort of conclusion from that observation.

The article you’re reading now occupies no paper at all. Practically speaking, there are no limits to how long it can be, which is to say that the theoretical limit runs into so many millions of words that it’s not even worth calculating.

It’s easy to see the effect of that boundless horizon. I digress as much as I like, follow asides wherever they lead me, and take as long as I like to get to the point. If I don’t like what I’ve been writing, I can rearrange it, or revise it, or just delete it and start over. The computer forgives sloppiness so easily that it actually encourages sloppiness.

But suppose I had just one sheet of paper to work on, and that was all I got. How would that change my writing?

I might start thinking before I wrote. I might even decide that I had to make every word count, and that I should use just as many words as I needed to make my point, and no more.

Are you beginning to wish I had only one sheet of paper instead of megabytes of Web space?

Walter Map obviously had more than one sheet of paper to work with, but his resources were precious. As we already saw, every drop of ink represented quite a bit of work.

When we looked at Walter Map in The Grail Code, we dwelt at length on the meticulous construction of the Grail romances. Not a word is wasted; as Etienne Gilson pointed out, you can’t find ten lines together written merely for the pleasure of storytelling. Everything is a small cog in the great machine. Like a perfectly designed clock, the Lancelot cycle has nothing missing and nothing superfluous: no details for their own sake, but everything for the larger purpose.

In other words, we might say that the meticulous work involved in the physical act of writing expresses itself in the meticulous construction of the romances. The mere fact that writing itself was so much labor must have encouraged the writer to labor as much on the structure of the work.

We might say, in fact, that one of the reasons Walter Map’s romances are so profound and so full of meaning is the simple fact that it was a lot of work to write in those days.

Which leads me into a discussion of the revolutions in writing technology—a discussion that will be even more self-indulgent than usual. You’ve been warned. I’ll bet that single-sheet-of-paper idea is starting to sound pretty good to you.

2 Responses to “Words on paper (the second part)”

  1. The Grail Code» Blog Archive » Chaucer’s rotten scribe Says:

    [...] Still, what I said about the care it took to prepare a manuscript is true. Most writers didn’t have the luxury of a secretary, and even when they did, the rough copy went more slowly than it would with today’s handwriting. Scriveyn or no scriveyn, it took a lot more care to write in Walter Map’s time, and I still think that care comes through in the construction of the romances. [...]

  2. nenGyncsind Says:

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