An appropriately few number of people know it, but I (Molly Gage, here) once completed a dissertation about the ways that bits and pieces, scraps and fragments are collected and saved and put back together.
It’s called Feverish Fragments and Dis-eased Desire: The Archive as Literature. (Roll your eyes if you must, but hey, it’s a product of context.)
In it, I use 225 sources to write 300 pages with 400 footnotes about archives—those places (real or virtual) where all our stuff is saved.
I say that it’s about archives, but it’s really about the desire to save stuff, and sometimes to save all the stuff, to keep it forever in the hopes of informing an indeterminate future about the importance of The Past.
Because of this personal fragment, I am always particularly drawn to stories about making meaning from scraps. Case in point: The New York Times article Scanning an Ancient Biblical Text that Humans Fear to Open about a severely damaged book (dubbed M.910), written between 400 – 600 A.D., that contains a heretofore illegible Coptic version of the Acts of the Apostles.
The codex, too delicate to be opened, is being deciphered through x-ray technology that can both identify the book’s letters and assign those letters to appropriate positions on scanned and software-modeled pages.
The result? A story from a book that is so damaged and so fragile that it can’t even be opened to be read.
I love the tale emerging from this technology (and not just because the tech suggests a way to access a few of the other fragmentary texts I discuss in my diss). I love it because it offers an accessible example of the vital link between technology and reading, bytes and bits.
Technology used to be feared as a tool that would close the books and kill the stories. But M.910 contributes to the argument that technology is as imperative to modern storytelling as it was to The Past. It’s just that now, instead of bound books and printing presses, we look to x-rays and algorithms (and blogs [and Twitter]) to help us create new, whole narratives from old bits and pieces.