Writing has never been easier these days than in the bygone days before the advent of the computer. If you are unsure about how to spell “Tomato,” then the computer will spell it for you by way of auto-correction. And it can even reconstruct your sentences like a pro. The magic is inside the computer, as if it has a mind and even a soul, as it were. This wizardly power of auto-correction can sometimes, however, lead you to an embroglio of nonsense, especially when writing emails or tweeting. Quite devilish, so I think and wonder: are things like auto-correction and the likes a wicked invention of science or science of diabolical existence? Hence, I am talking about Titivillus, the patron demon of scribes.
The birth of Titivillus could trace back to the 13th century when Franciscan theologian John of Wales pinpointed the malicious demonic trickery for the scriber’s mistakes. That’s not a footless excuse for the faux-pas made in a beautifully ornamented medieval script. In medieval times, copying the passages of the Holy Scripture was a painfully punctilious task for a monk to accomplish with perfect penmanship and exquisite illuminations. And the job cost a good amount of his youth with arched back, squinted eyes, and cramped arms and fingers, not in the least due to the time spent scribing. Toiling (even though for the glory of God) and Rejoicing (for the joy of self-fulfillment), Sorrowing always hoovers over the glories. Titivillus often brings this Sorrowing by making the scriber err in labor, such as misspelling or miscopying. When that happens, a corrector scraped off with a penknife or an acidic solution was applied to loosen the ink. Or sometimes he just made little dots under a wrong word, meaning the reader should ignore that bit. In case of more significant errors, the passages were sometimes lined through, and the correction was written in the margin or copied on a smaller piece of parchment and glued into the book.
To think of it, Titivillus has not returned to the Ninth Circle of Hell, always making himself a reason to stay as long as humanity continues writing. Writer’s block is a dark cloud hovering over the soul’s palace, the dome of thoughts. Philological carbuncles, including misspellings and awkward syntax, combine the demon’s interruption and the writer’s fear of writing. The fear is more than devilish trickery or neurotic obsession because it stifles creativeness and imagination of the writer. Still, I cannot help but think that today Titivillus manifests himself in the form of auto-correction, which can change the entire meaning of a whole sentence, often most embarrassingly and awkwardly. You agree?
Balzac’s Paris is no more different from today’s big cities like Los Angeles or New York City. It populates with the good, the bad, and the ugly, but mostly filling the in-betweens by the middling’s – the not-so-wretchedly poor yet decidedly needy with pride and prejudice –. The story about Father Goriot (no, he’s not a priest.) is about the people around him living inside and outside the Maison Vauquer. It is a boarding house in which the characters bring their stories to pay their dues of existence. The reader sees it as a microscopic view of the contemporary Parisian society where the poor, even in post-revolution, remains at the bottom of society—only the cold, indifferent climb up to the upper echelon.
The residents of the widow Madame Vauquer are neither defiantly evil nor angelically good but realistically neutral. The house symbolizes the society of the somebodies who long for social mobility for respect and recognition. Balzac’s passionate narrative endures no sight of injustice and proudly averts the eye from inhumanity, making even egotism and selfishness move to a pity dipped in pathos.
Balzac is a superb writer with detailed descriptions of the state of mind in the art of realism in a classical frame that makes scenes of everyday life a sight of history, banality of ordinary life a profundity of human life. Indeed, any of his famous fellow writers could have done it, but none of them can do it as blatantly well as Balzac does. For he knows how to make a villain sympathetic with an insightful eye looking into the depth of his wounded soul.
The Signal-Man (Original 1866 Edition): Annotated by Charles Dickens
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Charles Dickens wrote this short story of a lonely signalman in 1866 based upon the Clayton tunnel crash in 1861. The setting of the story was a station by this tunnel with a dismal and eerie atmosphere around it, which dovetailed with the ambiance of the story itself. But while I was reading the story and thereupon, I was unsure of who’s the ghost here: the narrator or the signalman? First of all, the image of the narrator calling the signalman’s attention to him from above seems to me uncanny enough to conjure up the calling of a spectre wandering about the haunted tunnel. Or it might be that the signalman, the station, and the train per se were all in fact illusions, bewitched elements of the tunnel crash victims eternally haunting the place, not knowing their demise. Or in terms of modern psychoanalytical perspective, either the narrator or the signalman saw his own representations of the reality in his own mind, the hallucinations, which were different from and invisible to the others. And that is what I found this story at once hauntingly rueful and lingering with the images.