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The Unknown Sea

Alberto Manguel, writing in The Library at Night:

The Web, and its promise of a voice and a site for all, is our equivalent of the mare incognitum, the unknown sea that lured ancient travelers with the temptation of discovery. Immaterial as water, too vast for any mortal apprehension, the Web’s outstanding qualities allow us to confuse the ungraspable with the eternal. Like the sea, the Web is volatile: 70 percent of its communications last less than four months. Its virtue (its virtuality) entails a constant present—which for medieval scholars was one of the definitions of hell. Alexandria and its scholars, by contrast, never mistook the true nature of the past; they knew it to be the source of an ever-shifting present in which new readers engaged with old books which became new in the reading process. Every reader exists to ensure for a certain book a modest immortality. Reading is, in this sense, a ritual of rebirth.

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