Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The price and the value of knowledge

Following my earlier comments about the availability of Latin philosophical texts, I found that a version of Wadding’s 1639 edition is available from a Tokyo bookseller.

Here is all you need to know about this edition. It was originally published in 1639. It was reprinted in 1895 by Vives (with minor changes). The Vives was reprinted by Gregg International in 1969, and that is the one for sale here. That’s right, $12,421.83 for a reprint of a reprint. How wrong. There are two values to a material book. One is the value of the knowledge contained in it, and that – in financial terms – should be free. That’s because, to employ a clichĂ©, knowledge – or rather the means of acquiring it - should be free. The other value is the rarity or commodity value of the material book. I don’t mind paying for the latter – the most recent addition to my collection is a 1555 edition of the works of Horace, all of which are available in digital form off the net, but not in a beautiful way that you can look at and touch, and which I am willing to pay for. But paying a large sum for a recent reprint of no real material value, is absurd.

Oddly enough, the Heythrop actually does have the original Wadding 1639, which must be priceless. It is mouldering away in a basement, which flooded a few years ago, causing damage to not a few books. Parts of the Vatican edition are there, also in a bad state, with loose leaves all over the place. Ironically some parts have never been read, still in their uncut state. It is truly absurd that in the information age, this valuable commodity is still being held in material form that cannot be indexed, and which can be easily damaged, lost or stolen. But we have no better system, yet.

1 comment:

Michael Sullivan said...

My oldest books are a four-volume set of Johnson's Rambler and an edition of Horace with introduction, notes, and glossaries in French, both from the 18th century. I stumbled across them by accident separately and got them cheap, and am proud to have them. The Horace has a pure Enlightenment poem penned in classical French on the blank leaf after the title page. That's something Google books doesn't give you.

I completely agree about the absurdities involved in accessing texts. Most of what I read I buy myself, but that gets very expensive - like Erasmus most of my spare money goes to books. The Vatican edition just put out their latest Scotus volume, but at 190 Euros I won't be able to get it right away.

My edition of St Bonaventure's Sentences commentary was a basement-flood copy from back when the Quaracchi warehouses were flooded many decades ago. The books were in terrible condition as well as terribly expensive and they had to be rebound to be readable. Buying from Quaracchi it's a real toss-up whether the book will be literally falling apart as soon as you pick it up or not. But there's no other source - most of them aren't in the public domain yet and even if they were there aren't good scans. It's very frustrating. It's enough to drive me to classical literature: anything I want is available in a decent edition, relatively cheap, and if I go with a Loeb (I have around 80 of them) there's a translation thrown in for when I'm feeling lazy.

I wish some billionaire would set up a foundation like the Loebs to put medieval texts permanently into print at a reasonable price, but I might as well ask for the Arkenstone of Thrain and the apples of the Hesperides.