Modern palimpsests keep popping up at me in the form of Instagram ads: little notebooks which promise to be the one and only notebook you will ever need. If the information you have written down on one of its pages becomes obsolete, simply wipe it away with a special cloth. They marked this towards me specifically with the line ‘do you also love lists as much as we do?’. I’m not sure how much they love lists, but yes, I do. These glorified white boards are a lot like the original palimpsests: parchment made out of animal skin, from which the top layer was scraped off after they deemed the writings on it no longer necessary, this old layer would stay slightly visible even through the new writing. My doubts about how well the text will come off the pages of these notebooks makes them even more alike.
When palimpsests were just discovered scholars had to use corrosive methods to try and read the layer underneath, nowadays we use ultraviolet light and photography; both texts keep existing, but never apart from one another.
In literature palimpsest has become a word with a deeper meaning than a piece of parchment. How would any writer write without ever having read, or at least heard of, Shakespeare and his plays? How many retellings of Romeo and Juliet or Hamlet have we read, do we still read? The simplest story gains more meaning once the reader realises its a retelling of Othello. Writers use words they didn’t invent, they use themes they didn’t think of, they use plots that have been used before. Within literature, nothing ever stands fully alone- there is always a context. Like the works of St. Jerome that had been written over one of the first law books of Rome, written in 161 AD. Neither text can ever be fully read separately again.
A new decade is almost before us, as a palimpsest we will clear the calendar, scrape off the previous year, write a new one over it, but never without the meaning of the last year, and those before. I only endure the winter because I know how pretty the flowers will look, on grounds still too chilly, covered in white frost, once spring has come. I start having a ‘Christmas feeling’ around the beginning of December, but only because I remember the Christmasses before, the smells, the festivities, the warmth, the cooking of way too much food in a far too short amount of time. The old year is being rewritten, but not erased, the past is always visible in all that surrounds us, giving meaning to the most mundane.
In the light of the palimpsest, and all that it can mean, we invite you to write a short story, a poem, an essay, to create a collection of photographs, to paint a picture, that will show us the meaning of the past year. Help us start the new year, the second year of ParatextMag, with some amazing new works.
If you are in need of some inspiration, look perhaps at the short story Kastanjes by our newest board member Marlon Schotel, the beautiful work of art by Sophie de Ruiter, who won third place in this year’s One Book One Campus contest, or listen to the spoken word piece MAANDAG by Project Nachtelijk Gespuis.
We would love to hear from you.