The Lost Works of You and Me


When you get degrees in history and literature, there are some books you read over and over. I wrote paper after paper on Hamlet and King Lear, increasing my understanding each time, but probably no works crossed my path more often than the Iliad and the Odyssey. Homer came up often in both disciplines, always with a different emphasis, but still reliably and repeatedly. Along the way I learned that the main reason Homer remains with us is the sheer number of copies available to us, usually preserved in Egypt’s dry dry sand.

The lens of history can be terribly foggy. We have to make a lot of assumptions, and it’s important to note that archaeology is still a relatively young field. Early archaeologists did a lot of damage to sites and artifacts, some of which we’re still trying to sort out. My favorite example was Heinrich Schliemann’s dynamiting of Mycenae. He leveled the city’s entrance ramp and many structures in his rush to find the bits of gold that must have been brought from Troy.

What will future civilizations think of our society? Will they exhume our houses, libraries, and used bookstores then decide that Harry Potter was our national epic? Will they think we considered wizards and witches mythological figures like gods and mistake super-hero action figures for idols?

Will our literature become so digitized that it fades away as the hard drives slowly decay? Will there be anything left of us for future civilizations to study, or will archaeology itself be entirely digital as computer scientists try to figure out how to read our books by decoding binary language as we’ve struggled with Linear A? It’s a dire thought, the idea of everything we’ve committed to disk just fading away.

If I ever wrote a memoir it would be in winter. Winter makes me nostalgic. I’ve been looking online at book covers, movie trailers, and toys from my childhood. So much of what was important to us gets eroded. So much of what we consider immortal in our culture isn’t. I would love to think that the books I write will outlast me, that the books I have written but could not publish will be valued by someone later on; but I would guess that even when I do publish what will remain behind are the Dan Browns, J.K. Rowlings, and the Gideon Bibles. I’ve never written out of a desire for immortality, or with the idea that it would make me fabulously wealthy. I’m grateful to have the passion to do it and what I hope is a modest talent. That has to be enough for me today.

One thought on “The Lost Works of You and Me

  1. Sean says:

    One of the things hat has always struck me as interesting is that much of what archaeologists learn is from the trash left behind. We have these enormous dumping grounds filled with things that may never decay away completely. What will the future generations you talk about glean from the things we threw away?

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