23 October 2003

If you haven't been to Amazon.com in a while, go. Their Search Inside the Book feature, which allows you to search and browse 33 million pages worth of material from 120,000 books, is just about the most intoxicating online toy I've ever seen. But it terrifies me at the same time. Between this monstrous djinn and Google.com, I have no excuse, no excuse whatsoever, for not writing a grand synthetic essay of everything, or a brilliant, glittering, Pynchonesque novel...because millions and millions of beautiful connections between people and ideas are already out there, at my fingertips, ready to be made without effort or erudition. I hate to say this, but it's all up to me now. The burdens of research have suddenly been lifted. No excuses. The answers are all right there. The only question is, What do you want to know today?

One example. I spent months writing a thesis on Amphiaraus, an obscure figure from the Theban epic cycle who survives mostly in scraps and fragments. Near the end of the thesis process, more than a year ago, I got to the point where was browsing through books at random in the Smyth Classical Library, poring through indexes and concordances, hoping to find a few stray pieces of information that I'd missed in my more systematic searches. Whenever I found something, and I often did, it was magic, witchcraft: tapping into the order of the universe, trusting my inner oracle. Now, a quick Search Inside the Book uncovers 170 textual references to Amphiaraus in translations, handbooks, dictionaries, novels, The Anatomy of Melancholy, Casanova's Memoirs.... All the things I missed...all the things I overlooked. Now there's no excuse to not knowing your sources...to not knowing what the Library of Babel contains. Jesus.

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