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  • ---Preamble----
    The roars fuelled by the celebratory feast have been hushed. The women have been packed off to somewhere in the rafters. Oh, don’t worry about them. They’re happily doing their own thing, as is women’s wont when husbands and children are otherwise occupied. And anyway, they’ve heard it all before.

    Dougall MacDougall’s Bard has just got into his swing, telling of the valour of his Laird’s far ancestors in the fight against the Giants of Haughloch - that is what he gets his bread and meat and drink and a pallet by the great hearth in the Great Hall for - when a voice interrupts:-

    “Erm… sorry… but the other week I was across at the MacCloud’s place” (as one, hands reach for dirks at the mention of the ‘brother’ Laird) “ and it wasn’t the same story at all. I’m not saying this one’s not good… [the speaker has noted a certain tension around him, but he clears his throat, and valiantly continues] …err… well, what I’d like to know, well… could you give me your sources?”

    ---- AND ------

    To paraphrase Mark Twain, there are ‘lies, damn’ lies, and then there are sources’
    Rumbustious, nay, impassioned times among the Duchies and Principates of fifteenth century Italy.
    Not only in terms of jostling for political power as such, with the Papacy weighing in as well, but also in terms of literary production. Actually, the latter was oftentimes a means of consolidating the former.

    Who today would be so taken up with the right way to interpret a phrase from Livy as to sandwich his emendations in among a series of lurid scatological insults? Lorenzo Valla (c.1407-1457) did, in ‘Antidotum in Facium’, against fellow humanist Bartolomeo Facio (the ‘Facium’ of the title).

    Who today, siding with another fellow humanist, would send a hitman to waste yet another humanist on account of the latter’s scathing attacks upon the former’s interpretation of… yes, you guessed it, Livy? Niccolò Perotti (c. 1429-1480) did, commissioning the assassination of Poggio Bracciolini in 1453. And no, it didn’t come off, and the whole thing was settled by a nice letter of apology from Perotti §.

    Compared to this, modern-day literary feuds pale to hissy-fit insignificance, viz. Lillian Hellman and Mary MacCarthy, or Gore Vidal and Truman Capote, AND Norman Mailer.

    However, if we define ‘literary’ as anything that produces a TEXT from imaginative effort, the late twentieth and now twenty-first century may be warming up to rival, even out-do, these fifteenth century hotheads. With the added benefit of providing images for the words.

    Anita Sarkeesian has not only been the subject of internet hate-mail, and had violent personal threats made against her, but has even been made the subject of the very type of video game (e.g. Resident Evil, Diablo etc.etc.) whose gamer practices she was documenting. Gamers §§ are rewarded by how many punches they can land and cuts they can inflict on her image. And, somehow, this upsets me more than the idea of personal threats. Online ‘hate’ is indefinable and, very worrying this, potentially plural.

    Oh, we all pretty well know about the negative aspects of a ‘literary’ medium which, because of compression (thank you, Jonathan Harris) rewards the spoken style rendered TEXT, so favouring the blunt – euphemistic this – over the politic. And then you have the anonymity factor, ranging from the neophytes’ naive perception of ‘distance’ from the destinee of his message, to the more au-fait usage of Onion Routers and TORS or, for the very very cagey, VPN service and proxies.

    But what about where anonymity is not what is sought? What about where the whole point is to BE and to BE to the n-th degree?

    And the creation of that BEING is based on a cunning selection of sources?

    Rather like the bad science - ‘sciens’ = the searching for knowledge - practiced by some of us in the Humanities. Of the type, you have a theory, now go find the sources to prove it. And you know, it works everytime.

    Then there’s another aspect of the medium, so aptly commented on by Peter Duong, which is the credence given to what someone says, something you would listen to if you were in a bar, say, even think on maybe to pooh-pooh later, or just forget about.

    But now it has been made TEXT. Somebody writes a thing, another 'shares' it, and then yet another… and another and so on and so forth. Thus are metropolitan legends formed. But there is scope here for more dangerous usage.

    Especially when you factor in the ‘Chinese Whispers’ effect, whereby little alterations may happen to it on the way. My blood freezes to think what dire reaction Perotti would have had at all this.

    Now, nobody took what our Bard said as graven-in-stone absolute truth. So it would have been ridiculous to ask him for his ‘sources’. But, because of how we are conditioned to view TEXT, shouldn’t we do that? That is, get checking before blindly propagating?

    Addendum: 13.09.2012 What an almighty pratfall! I fell for a hoax, the proverbial 'hook...etc.'. Had it not been for three hawks (Cowbirders at that; Cowhawks?) I'd have set it off on a dizzying spiral of propagation, the kind only Facebook can permit. Phew!

    Re-addendum: 24.09.2015 It's only just come to my attention that I may have channelled another much loved Cowbird author, Geoff Dutton, in this work. Go have a look see and tell me what you think.
    § I am really rather fond of this chap (there are traces left by some of his contemporaries of a nickname for him, too: ‘la Volpe’). He was the one who called for the dismantling of printing presses because of the inordinate quantity of errors being allowed to creep in on imprints. One in particular got him very hot under the collar. No, not Livy this time. Pliny. But, and here’s the funny part, the sly devil is thought to have then introduced as many as 275 errors into his later edition of that very same work. Why? In a word: politics.
    Oh, by the way, and as we’re on the subject of sources as guarantees of truth, the Wikipedia entry for the man cites a source in support of a theory that he was in favour of ‘press censorship’. This citation is from a volume we happen to have here in Sassari, at the Biblioteca Pigliaru, and this interpretation is, how can I say... unusual? Not least, because ‘the press’ did not exist then; the printing PRESS did, however.

    §§ Digression coming. According to Jessica Hammer, video game player and researcher at Columbia University, although statistics on gender bias in gamers is hazy, the demographics would indicate that the men involved, who are becoming so politically uncorrect as to worry even the industry, are between the ages of 25 and 35, largely from the USA. Jonathan Harris in (thank you again, Leilani, for the link) mentions that software designers – whom he previously identifies as social engineers – are men between the ages of 25 and 35, largely from the USA. I don’t know what to make of that exactly. But there’s SOMETHING there that perturbs.
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