As an association of persons interested in literary pursuits, it is fitting that the Athenæum hosts Matthew Battles to speak about writing and what it means to write. His book, Palimpsest: A History of the Written Word, is a profound, eloquent meditation on the history of writing, from Mesopotamia to contemporary multimedia. The ability to write has been portrayed in mythology either as a gift from heroes or a curse from the gods; it has been used as an instrument of power and a channel of the divine, a means of social bonding and of individual self-definition. Now, as the revolution once wrought by the printed word gives way to the digital age, many fear that the art of writing—and the nuanced thinking nurtured by writing—are under threat. But writing itself, despite striving for permanence, is always in the midst of growth and transfiguration.
Matthew Battles is a program fellow at the Berkman Center of Harvard University, where he is associate director of metaLAB, a research group exploring the bounds of networked culture. He lives in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts.