Reading Meme – Day Twenty-four

Day Twenty-four – Best quote

This is auto-scheduled, of course, because right now I’m in the frozen white tundra of my home town, enjoying Christmas Eve dinner and festivities with my family. Happy Christmas, to those of you who celebrate!
My favorite quote is from Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Book V, Chapter I.

“This will kill that.”

This is the larger passage from which my quote comes. Dom Claude is speaking with Jacques Coictier and Gossip Tourangeau, and he looks out the window at the cathedral of Notre Dame.

“Pasque-dieu! what are your books, then?”

“Here is one of them,” said the archdeacon.

And opening the window of his cell he pointed out with his finger the immense church of Notre-Dame, which, outlining against the starry sky the black silhouette of its two towers, its stone flanks, its monstrous haunches, seemed an enormous two-headed sphinx, seated in the middle of the city.

The archdeacon gazed at the gigantic edifice for some time in silence, then extending his right hand, with a sigh, towards the printed book which lay open on the table, and his left towards Notre-Dame, and turning a sad glance from the book to the church,–“Alas,” he said, “this will kill that.”

Coictier, who had eagerly approached the book, could not repress an exclamation. “Hé, but now, what is there so formidable in this: ‘GLOSSA IN EPISTOLAS D. PAULI,Norimbergoe, Antonius Koburger, 1474.’ This is not new. ‘Tis a book of Pierre Lombard, the Master of Sentences. Is it because it is printed?”

“You have said it,” replied Claude, who seemed absorbed in a profound meditation, and stood resting, his forefinger bent backward on the folio which had come from the famous press of Nuremberg. Then he added these mysterious words: “Alas! alas! small things come at the end of great things; a tooth triumphs over a mass. The Nile rat kills the crocodile, the swordfish kills the whale, the book will kill the edifice.”

Hugo goes on to expand on this idea in chapter two of book five, “This will kill that.”

In it, he says:

To our mind, this thought had two faces… It was the affright of the priest in the presence of a new agent, the printing press. It was the terror and dazzled amazement of the men of the sanctuary, in the presence of the luminous press of Gutenberg… It signified that one power was about to succeed another power. It meant, “The press will kill the church.”

But underlying this thought, the first and most simple one, no doubt, there was in our opinion another, newer one, a corollary of the first… It was a presentiment that human thought, in changing its form, was about to change its mode of expression; that the dominant idea of each generation would no longer be written with the same matter, and in the same manner; that the book of stone, so solid and so durable, was about to make way for the book of paper, more solid and still more durable. In this connection the archdeacon’s vague formula had a second sense. It meant, “Printing will kill architecture.”

It is a powerful idea, one that had me setting down the novel when I read it, and just chewing on it for a time. Even getting around Hugo’s flowery and perhaps overly philosophical writing, this is a nugget of an idea that’s been banging around my head for over a decade now. The whole chapter discusses the idea in detail, and I’ve come back to this chapter several times over the years, though I’ve never re-read the book.

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About Jessica

Dork extraordinaire, that's me! An unhealthy knowledge of Star Trek, a love of books, a fondness for purring cats.
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