Tuesday, March 3, 2015

On my return from the vortex, where I had chanced upon such wonders...



These walls are filled with books, post and lintel spines fill the nooks of each shelf and odd corners.  A constant companion in the passenger side of my vehicle, a stack that represents the indecision of man-  what he might want to read as the vicissitudes of his moods change and he conducts his business there and thither.  Those who lust only for information needn't seek their sustenance in between the spread leaves of a fast and easy codex; if anything the printed page is something of a relic when it comes to pure information retrieval. The Renaissance humanist searching through stacks of codices and manuscripts for his research is a nostalgically romantic, and sometimes quite hilarious image.  Many of the inundated humanists began to see all this new knowledge as a crisis of information. How to organize it all?  This crisis is being handled fairly well by modern technology, but the bibliophile still feels a strong attraction, even one like myself who reads on his tablet and his phone.

While the bound paper and ink codex is still a staple for research, the book is also artifact, an objet d'art, something Indiana Jones might find on a pedestal before he is chased by maddened pygmies. Rare and ancient books have always had the allure of hidden knowledge and access to power.  John Dee was an Elizabethan biblio-wizard .  Dee is known to most people as Elizabeth I's astrologer, but Dee was a man who crossed oceans to pursue books, the kinds of books that might give him insight of to the mysteries of existence and time. Dee was interested in such secrets whether they pertained to mathematics or ritual intercourse with angels and astral beings.  This search for Profound Knowledge (is there anything more intimidatingly spiriting than 17th/18th century capitalization practices?) combined with the relative rarity of books imbued the codex form with a luster that went beyond the aesthetic, they were perceived to be both actually and metaphorically magic. While I am too much of a skeptic to believe in supernatural magic ( i.e. that which is distinct from "sufficiently advanced technologies") I cannot help feel a note of transcendence in the perception of real objects as intrinsically magical.  The men and woman who lusted after books and the knowledge they could convey color my personal view of books and the written word. This fascination with printed page, both for what it is and what it represents, causes many of us to surround ourselves with books we may never finish, or to own multiple copies of Jane Eyre, perhaps with the justification that we liked the new introduction Harold Bloom or Umberto Eco wrote for it.  Like Borges' tale of the man who copied down Don Quixote, the text is made "novel" due to it's permutation in a different form.  One just wants to read a text that much more when it's format appeal to his sense of aesthetics, or is perhaps more manageable to hold and turn pages while sipping coffee.

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