James Lileks on recording history:

The last story I read while watching Gnat concerned a homeless man who spent his time on a huge oral history of New York, interviewing other residents of the demimonde, jotting down graffiti. His book had more than 9 million words, a great number of which were illegible to anyone but the author. Quotidian though the details may have been, an exhaustive account of New York’s long-lost details might be of interest to modern eyes, no? Pity it probably ended up in the trash bin after he died. Who would save a nutter’s jottings? And why?

It's one small loss that speaks of a million others. Reading Mitchell’s work you can’t help but imagine the thousands of people who passed on the street while he sat inside talking to his subjects, taking notes; the workers in the tall towers up the street, the men under the paving stones fixing pipes, the sailors on the tugboat whose whistle could you hear, faintly, when someone opened the door at the right time. The pieces are like grains of sand that somehow describe a mile of beach.

Welcome to the internet, but its even better -- billions of nutters jotting down their stories in their own words. If you think there's a lot of crap on the net now, just wait. I envy the historian a millennium hence who gets to wade through all this dreck looking for a few gems.



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