I like touching things.
I was making some notes on poetry today, and these were annotation-type notes, colourful scribbles and circles dragged across a page of verse. I’ve not made these kinds of notes since year thirteen, when we’d be given a big anthology of poetry and be expected to trawl through it for the exam like searching for a needle in a stack of slightly larger and more painful needles.
University, however, appears to not believe in anthologies as a general rule. All my other notes on verse have been made on lined paper, which requires the painstaking process of writing-out quotes of value rather than simply underlining them. There’s also the far less important point that having the poem printed in front of you makes it easier to get a handle on the geography of the poem, but it’s mostly the I-can’t-be-bothered-to-copy out quotes thing.
Most of the work at uni is conducted on computers, as is to be expected in this century. But there’s a glaring lack of tangible resources, and using them is often unweildly, or just difficult: handouts might be printed out for your convenience, but you’ll probably just be directed to some dark, unnavigable corner of Moodle instead; seminars take on a weirdly Wall-E-esque feel as students peer over the tops of their laptops to register the existence of their peers, before scuttling back behind their screens to their Word documents and Football Manager windows. And this isn’t a holier-than-thou boast (honest), as I do it too; this is merely an observation that for a course that was, until say twenty years ago, conducted almost entirely on paper, it’s alarming how quickly such tangible media have been phased out.
The obvious exception to this is the library, a wealth of ideas and confusing Middle English verse printed on actual sheets that one can touch and spill coffee over and attempt to sneak back to the reshelving box without alerting the nearest librarian to the new caffeinated aroma emanating from them. Honestly, one of the reasons that I love the library isn’t that it’s quiet or “feels” like the place to do work, but that it’s a place of learning being literally at your fingertips, rather than everything being wrapped up in the ether of the Internet. I love the Internet, but it always feels more random and spontaneous than reading a book with a single topic, written by someone with a particular goal in mind.
Also, places like libraries remind me of my Sixth Form days, when I was at my most focused and academically productive.
I think that’s why I prefer some artistic media to others. Painting is fun, but I’m less interested in that because the intellectual and artistic merits of it can be somewhat diluted by the fact that you’re gonna hang that painting behind some glass in a corridor somewhere and only use it to show your acquantances how bloody cultured you are. Meanwhile, books are a thing that must be held, and manipulated with the hands; there’s even a certain amount of challenge in deriving meaning from a book, as ideas must be interpreted and, in some cases, language deciphered to get to the heart of the piece. It’s no surprise that my favourite medium, therefore, is the video game, a form that demands engagement from the audience to reveal its secrets, and is entirely meritocratic in its approach; if you want to fully understand what Golden Sun has to teach us about perspective, you’ve got to play both games in their entirety yourself.
While the information era has brought far more advantages than disadvantages – not least the practical concern that if we print much more crap on physical paper there will literally be zero trees left on the planet – there’s something about physical media that excites me. It might be the nostalgia of reading books as a kid before the Internet was really a thing that children had access to, or my scholarly ideal of sitting in an office, drowning in Old Icelandic manuscripts and Skyrim players’ guides.
Either way, I got to hold my latest seminar prep in my hands, and it felt great.