Granite Never Forgets: The Lasting Weight of Inscriptions

More

Is carving stones with words the ultimate information medium?

Thumbnail image for Tenner_Granite_5-26_banner.jpg
The Washington Post inverts the cliche "not carved in stone" with a profile of the artist and master stone-cutter Nick Benson, who is inscribing the text of Washington's new Martin Luther King Jr. memorial with a new typeface of his own design. As one of the other carvers explains:

[T]he work is a kind of benign combat between flesh and stone, said co-worker Paul Russo, 45, who displayed his shredded gloves, beat-up hands and fingertips wrapped in duct tape.

"We win" the battle, he said, laughing, "but there's a lot respect for the other participants."

Benson said, "Because stone's so hard, there's this idea that you have to beat it into submission.

"It's actually kind of the opposite," he said. "You do have to move it. And you do have to use a little force to move it. But when it comes to the finish . . . it's a very, very delicate process. And you really have to finesse it."

More proof that calligraphy lives. Benson quotes Shelley's poem "Ozymandias":

"It's really poignant," he said, "especially from a stone carver's point of view ... It's about the fact that time will wash everything away."

Yes, that's a sad thought—that the centuries even-handedly efface the heritage of the liberator as well as of the tyrant. But it's too modest. From the point of view of Rameses II, monuments and inscriptions worked. Even the broken remains of a single one of his statues was awesome enough to inspire a poem millennia later by one of the greatest English writers ever, itself reprinted, anthologized, and translated for centuries. The point isn't that time degrades inscriptions, but that they last longer than any other form of writing.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Jump to comments
Presented by

Edward Tenner is a historian of technology and culture, and an affiliate of the Center for Arts and Cultural Policy at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School. He was a founding advisor of Smithsonian's Lemelson Center.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

Is Technology Shifting Our Moral Compass?

"The experience of taking another human life becomes much more trivial."


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Juice Cleanses: The Worst Diet

A doctor tries the ever-popular Master Cleanse. Sort of.

Video

Why Did I Study Physics?

Using hand-drawn cartoons to explain an academic passion

Video

What If Emoji Lived Among Us?

A whimsical ad imagines what life would be like if emoji were real.

Video

Living Alone on a Sailboat

"If you think I'm a dirtbag, then you don't understand the lifestyle."

Feature

The Future of Iced Coffee

Are artisan businesses like Blue Bottle doomed to fail when they go mainstream?

Writers

Up
Down

More in Technology

From This Author

Just In