The first bit of class on Tuesday was particularly humbling. We were told to partner off and pick a few things we could name about the so-called “Dark Ages.” We were given three or four centuries and a simple task: come up with a list of anything historical that might be remotely important to art history. Or even not, just something that happened. After a moment of contemplation, I exclaimed to my partner (more excitedly than I ever have when talking about schisms), “OH! The church split!” referring to the Great Schism of 1054. That, and some vague notions about Charlemagne, were about all I had to offer.
It struck me as a bit of a shame. In high school, my World History had skipped over the period pretty quickly, with a passing mention of Charlemagne. European History, as best as I can recall, had picked up with the Renaissance. While the age itself wasn’t dark, it certainly was a dark spot in secondary education.
So what did strike me in the next hour about this somewhat mysterious era?
The first thing that comes to mind, the thing that raised a surprising bit of awe in my when I looked upon were the letters. We looked at images of various sorts of scripts, ranging from the essentially illegible – miniscule, space-less, punctuation-less scrawl that unfortunately now says nothing but that it existed – to the ornate, almost artistic scripts that come to the common mind. But there was something captivating about each. Something remarkably self-aware that led to the changes and adaptations in writing. Each writer in their own monastery seemed to be writing against the fear placed in them from the Timaeus: don’t write and you will forget.
As is apt to happen again and again in these reflections, I wonder what happens when we turn this idea upon ourselves. Penmanship is no longer an area of grading in elementary school. The only thing that made me seriously consider my hand-writing in high school was the fear that I may be misread on AP essays (which, incidentally, led me to change elements of my hand-writing for the better in the Fall of my Senior year in preparation). I can at this moment select a multitude of fonts, but what thought do we give to how we write? How much does the how affect the what? I wrote earlier how perhaps the vessels we eat and drink from affect our personality; could not the way we write affect our style of writing as well? Maybe, maybe not. Sounding the alarm bells of history in the present can get a bit noisome, so I’ll let it rest.