This morning I had the privilege of viewing the State Library of Victoria exhibition entitled Love and Devotion - From Persia and Beyond, which focuses primarily on illuminated manuscripts of Persian poetry. A gallery of images can be found here. These works are on loan from the Bodleian Library at Oxford University, and they are truly remarkable.
While I was looking at the works, I tried to imagine their first owners and readers, and I attempted to look at the exquisite illustrations and spiderweb-script with fresh eyes. I imagined that the far-off (and now long dead) reader would have felt they were at a pinnacle of refinement, and their civilisation at a peak to produce such extraordinary works. This made me wonder about our own civilisation.
We produce some amazing things, no doubt, but they are almost exclusively machine made, and the qualities of the objects and documents I come in contact with are somewhat pixelated and crude when compared to these rarified hand-illuminated plates. The works in the exhibition are impossibly fine - and entirely without pixels. The only thing in our contemporary world that compares is, perhaps, the impossible filigree of a printed circuit board, which can strangely bear a passing resemblance to some of the more abstract illuminated panels in the exhibition.
A life without pixels is something to consider. I was put in mind of this recently, as I have purchased and begun using an electric typewriter. I am still astonished at the clarity and crispness of a page of typed text; with its faint debossing, each character is razor sharp, and computer printed pages look slushy by comparison - even those that have been laser-printed. The beauty of the typewriter is that it is now old technology, and it has been more-or-less perfected. It is like having my own printing press.
Of course, these may not be original observations, but it doesn't really matter - they were prompted by a fleeting impression gained from the exhibition, a strange sense that we are not as 'advanced' in the developed nations as we persist in thinking we are. Who knows: if media devices such as the typewriter cease to exist, perhaps we are going backwards.