I have just got to Switzerland, where I will stay for a few weeks as a visiting researcher. The very short list of affordable things here includes milk, cheese, potatoes, wine, oranges and, apparently, taxi rides.
After seeing Bonnie and Clyde at the local cinémathèque, my thoughts turned briefly to Fahrenheit 451, which was made into a (less significant) movie at about the same time. (There is no obvious connection, beyond the fact that Truffaut was apparently invited to direct the former, and declined because of his commitment to the latter.)
I can only suggest to you how dismal and unexciting he is—and by this demonstration show you how bloodless and pompous is the film—by telling you that the schoolteacher for whom he conceives a high regard is a bleakly defeminized version of his elegant, sexy wife who doesn’t care beans for reading and gets all her information from watching the wall-to-wall television screen.
Now, I do not suggest for one moment that the idea elucidated here is not fundamentally wholesome. A woman who bravely reads books is more likely to be socially constructive than one who is hung on TV.
[…]Nothing could be more depressing than seeing people ambling through the woods of what looks to be a sort of adult literary camp, mechanically reciting “The Pickwick Papers” and Plato’s “Dialogues,” or seeing a dying man compelling his grandson to recite after him and commit to memory Robert Louis Stevenson’s unfinished “Weir of Hermiston.”
This is, of course, just an example of North American Maoism (of the left-wing or right-wing shade – it matters little). (The reviewer may also have been unaware of the fact that memorisation is precisely how texts were transmitted in literate cultures before the invention of print, as manuscripts were expensive and rare.) At the same time, one can wonder – to what extent do we have a visceral reaction to book-burning because we are conditioned to do so by its history? (And is this conditioning actually shared by most people, film critics included?) Already in the twentieth century, book-burning must have been meant as a form of intimidation and display that relied on this conditioning – it does not a particularly effective way to repress something that is already in print.
Is our reaction – and the reaction of the audience public book-burnings were meant to have – thus a function of something historical long predating fascism – religious burnings of books, say? Even then, there was something beyond the fact that one could burn the last remaining copy of a book – thus Abelard counts his being forced to burn his own book as one of his two bitterest experiences (Historia Calamitatum, Ch. 5) even though it did survive in other copies and many versions, as he presumably would have known.
How do things work out in other media? Film negatives are irreplaceable and vulnerable, and even used to be highly flammable; moreover, there are plenty of examples of films that are permanently lost, i.e., neither negatives nor prints survive. Nevertheless, somehow the image of burning film is less common; even its representation in films is not very common, and the two examples I can think of focus on the danger posed to individuals, rather than on the loss of the film itself.
What about electronic media? Anybody who started to use computers in the twentieth century must be used to deleting files on a regular basis to save on space. Does this affect whether we have a reaction to the destruction of files? Is it fine to destroy a .ps or .pdf, but not a .tex file? Is it just “rm -rf *” that provokes an instinctive reaction?
(On a related but not identical note: does everybody have memories of youth involving going through a pine or elm folder doing a search for a From: field and pressing the “delete” key repeatedly – and, if so, was it as satisfying as throwing letters into a fire?)
Going back to the original topic: it is difficult to understand why the two main characters in many papers on cryptography or information transmission are called Alice and Bob, instead of the obvious choice, viz., Bonnie and Clyde. This alternative convention has the added advantage of reserving the letter A for further usage.