inter alia: Why the fu*lalalala* are we CREATING lacunae?

Lacunae.  Bane to the existence of anyone who studies the ancient world (or any other world that involves the reading of “elderly” manuscripts and inscriptions.) One minute you’re reading along on your New Testament papyrus, happy as a clam and the next mi

Lacuna…or lacunae as the case may be.  That is, places were the text has been lost due to some sort of damage to the manuscript.  This one…P.Yale I 3 with its mirroring areas of damage looks to have been accidentally caused.  It’s an unfortunate reality that ancient writing materials, like papyrus and vellum, become very brittle over time and handling them in any way often causes damage which obscures the text.  Because of lacunae, we are often limited in what we are actually able to make out from what remains of ancient texts, and what has been lost forever.  P.Yale I 3 is a relatively complete example…and it is not the only copy of this section of text, so the missing material can be reliably reconstructed for much of the damaged sections.  That is not always the case.

latin lacunae

There is considerably less preserved of this Latin inscription which was carved in marble.  It is clearly a small piece of a larger inscription, and though one can make out some words, any real meaning has been lost.  The following is what epigraphers have to say about this fragment:

No earth shattering new information about the Romans to be found here…it is just a frustrating reality of dealing with material that is hundreds or thousands of years old.  Lacunae happen.

It’s bad enough when lacunae happen because of accidents of preservation, but somehow it is even worse when we know that the material may have survived intact if it had not been tampered with by someone or another, either ancient or modern.  The monuments of the 18th Dynasty pharaoh Hatshepsut were deliberately defaced after her death to obscure her name from the records.  The ancient Romans practiced something called damnatio memoriae which was an effort to wipe the history clean of any and all mentions of a certain individual.  In more recent times, “erotic” art from the sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum was locked away for centuries in the “Secret Cabinet” because it was deemed too racy for public display.  Censorship…or attempted censorship…is nothing new.  People have been trying to enforce it in varying degrees forever and by it’s very nature, it creates lacunae.

The most recent foray into a brave new electronic world of attempted censorship was pointed out to me by my SpReAd the Love partner in crime, JazzBaby.  It’s called CleanReader and it has been causing quite a kerfluffle in the literary community, as evidenced by a simple Google search.

clean reader snip

In a nutshell, it is an app available for Android and iDevices that enables one to “clean” a selection of e-books of the dirtiness…you know *those* words.  Redacting text is nothing new…readers have always had the ability to take their very own Sharpie and blot out any words they found objectionable…CleanReader takes it into the digital world of the e-book and provides a handy preselected dictionary of replacements for all that nastiness in otherwise great works of literature.  Of course it begs the question as to why, if you have an aversion of profanity or obscenity, or human anatomy, you’d want to read a book that is rampant with “swears”, but let’s leave that little wrinkle aside for the time being and take a look at a page of text cleaned by CleanReader:


Do you see what it did right there?  It’s CREATED lacunae in an originally complete text.  Why the  ♦  would we want to do that?!  Now granted, if you tap on the little blue button, the app will provide you with a acceptably “clean” replacement for the original word, but do you also see how the deliberate lacunae ultimately break up the original text and inhibit the flow of the language as it was carefully crafted by the author?  I just don’t get it.

As a nascent writer, there are any number of things that frost my buns about this whole thing, but I’ll only touch on one or two….One goes back to what I mentioned above…if you can’t bear to read a book without altering it’s original voice to satisfy your need for purity of verbiage, perhaps you should just choose another book.  (I have it on good authority that are plenty out there that have no need for CleanReader sanitation).  I try to keep the language relatively clean here (which is often a struggle given my ongoing project of compiling a lexicon of creative derivitives of “fk”  – to the eternal dismay of my mother) but to be plain, if you don’t care for my vulgar language, don’t read my    ♦      book.  I don’t care to read Fifty Shades of Grey, but I also don’t need to “clean” it to make it more palatable to my personal standards.  

The second major issue I have with this whole concept is that some arbitrary someone, in some arbitrary somewhere (the Bible Belt apparently) chose the words that would be used as replacements for all the “naughties.”   There is a deliberate agenda at play here that makes me very, very uncomfortable as a writer and as a reader.  Should people have a right to choose what they read?  Absolutely.  Should they have a right to profit from the unsanctioned alteration of what someone else has copyrighted…I don’t think so.

Pigs must be flying somewhere, because I’m suddenly a whole lot less bothered by ancient lacunae.  At the very least, they are rarely filled in with scrubbed language.  And thank   ♦   for that!

Read the  ♦  on Armitageworld


For the record…Richard Armitage unwittingly contributed to the “clean” conversation on Twitter while this post was in process…small world.  (In which if one’s eyes and ears are that innocent, they probably are very uncomfortable on Twitter on a regular day.)