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[BKARTS] bookarts as media

I read the following about 50 years ago:

"Afternoons, when the fossil sea was warm and motionless, and the wine trees
stood stiff in the yard, and the little distant Martian bone town was all
enclosed, and no one drifted out their doors, you could see Mr. K himself in
his room, reading from a metal book with raised hieroglyphs over which he
brushed his hand, as one might play harp. And from the book, as his fingers
stroked, a voice sang, a soft ancient voice, which told tales of when the
sea was red steam on the shore and ancient men had carried clouds of metal
insects and electric spiders into battle." Ray Bradbury, The Martian

Obviously, the idea of this "book" impacted me to such an extent that I have
carried the impression with me for half a century. (I did have to look up
the quote to get it right.) That one passage, though, changed the way I
think about a lot of things - books, art, music, sculpture - removing the
walls that defined these arts in my own mind and encouraging me to stretch
my imagination to include a universe of possibilities. (Not to mention
Bradbury's impact on my concept of language, as well as of Earth-centered
constructs such as linear time, etc.)

We tend to wall ourselves in on just about every topic - to create a warm
"nest" or comfort zone in which our ideas and concepts can feel comfortable
without our having to exert much effort to see beyond them. I prefer rooms
without walls when it comes to thinking - I like to stretch the
possibilities of my own mind and even then, I often find that my
thinking/imagination has been very wee indeed when I come across something

Our concept of "book" has been created by our own (human) thinking, our
needs to communicate, and the channels that our own history has created in
carrying the concept forward. In other words, I still prefer to think that
definitions are arbitrary and biased.

Don't misunderstand - when I want to read, I want a physical book in my
hands. I like to pause, refer back a few pages to an earlier statement, mark
pages for rereading (post it notes are the greatest invention! I keep a pad
beside me when I'm reading wherever that happens to be.) When I'm
researching something, I want all of the books relevant to the moment open
at the pertinent pages and strewn around me so that I can work between them.
When I did a lot of etymological writing, I had to have a physical,
large-sized OED, often with several volumes open at once. I can't imagine
doing that kind of work on a CD-ROM or computer screen.

If I pick up a book that has the added virtue of engaging my other senses -
because of a fine binding, or thick creamy paper, or the indentations of
letterpress printing, or aesthetically pleasing typography and design - then
I find the volume that much more "valuable" to my overall experience.

What engages me most about a book is, of course, the text. I have a vivid
imagination (if you hadn't guessed) and I'm often disappointed with
recreations of books (film, TV etc.) because they don't meet the
expectations of my imagination. I don't WANT to read books on a screen and I
would never have the same interactive pleasure from a holographic or
otherwise "visual" presentation of a book.

But that's not to say that they couldn't be made, nor that they couldn't be
"books," nor that someone else couldn't prefer them.

Often when a concept is stretched by technology, the new technology
contributes favorably to the old concept. So for example, if I were reading
a book that referred to a certain piece of music, being able to produce that
music from the book as I read might add to the pleasure. We add maps,
images, and other visual clues to books all the time. Taking it a step
further is not beyond reason. One thing that weighed on me as a child was
the desire to know how certain animals moved - did a giraffe's neck sway
when it walked? How did an elephant's feet receive and distribute its
weight? (OK - I was a really weird little kid, but in those pre-TV days
things like that nagged at me constantly.)

But an "artful" book - now that is another matter...somewhere, I think,
between a book and a work of art. It doesn't exist solely for the text or
context - else why bother? It's an extension of the context in the best
examples - not just a reproduction of text, but a re-visioning of context. I
love Claire Van Vliet and Margaret Kaufman's "Aunt Sallie's Lament" - an
artists book that perfectly enhances the poem both with subtext and
structure. A structure that eschews the text altogether but retains the
context and re-visions it as structure - is it a book? Apparently each of us
must decide that for ourselves. I still say that for me, if it resonates
"bookiness" I'll accept calling it an artful book.

Lee (utterly enchanted with this discussion)

Lee Kirk
Cats are composed of Matter, Anti-Matter, and It Doesn't Matter
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