Conversation

Micah Bloom’s Codex is building some momentum and as part of the final push toward publication, we wanted to provide an opportunity for our contributors to talk with each other and with Micah (and me!).

To this end, we’ve created a webpage bloomscodex.org, put up a gallery and a 20 minute cut of the film version of Codex. You all also have the copy of his larger project.

I was drawn to this project as a publisher by his archaeological sensibilities. (In fact, in my own mind, I refer to the archaeological aspect of Ryan Stander’s, Jess Christy’s (http://www.jessicachristy.com), and Micah’s work as the defining characteristic of the “Minot School”) . The attention to discarded books as artifacts and the appreciation of their “post-depositional” narrative as they transition from personal objects to objects of study and even veneration.

Micah’s photographs also allude to the catastrophic circumstances surrounding the displacement of a thing from one state to another. His decision to focus on books makes this all the more jarring because people develop a particular kind of personal attachment to paper books.

We are interested in starting a conversation in the threaded comments beneath this post. As this develops we’ll work out the technical details of organize the conversations in various ways.


9 thoughts on “Conversation

  1. I’m glad to see that this project is moving forward, and I think it has a lot of promise. I was immediately taken by Bloom’s images when Bill (Caraher) first shared them with me some months back. My research in English literature focuses on the ways in which books have been varyingly understood, at different points throughout human history, as material objects destined for utility, display, reverence, or physical engagement. Bloom’s images speak to a variety of forms of engagement (including non-engagement, disuse, and neglect) — many of which, I think, symbolize our fraught understandings of the roles that books play in our contemporary culture.

    For instance: the word that comes instantly to mind is (sorry, but I gotta say it) “post-truth.” (it’s the word of the year, dontcha know? — https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/11/16/post-truth-named-2016-word-of-the-year-by-oxford-dictionaries/?utm_term=.23d360dc228c). Books have, for ages, symbolized, if not actually _granted_, some approximation of stable “truth” in the form of fixed knowledge. Is a “post-truth” world therefore also a “post-book” world, then, or perhaps just a world that sees printed knowledge as usable in different, alternative ways?

    Just some food for thought to get us started.

    Glad to have this website as a “base camp” for our conversations about all of this.

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    1. Sheila,

      This is great. I really enjoyed Laura Mandell’s Breaking the Book this fall, and it got me thinking about exactly these same things. For an archaeologist, it was particularly interesting to reflect on how the materiality of the book structures the kind of truth it can produce. (In fact, I blogged on it here: https://mediterraneanworld.wordpress.com/2016/08/09/breaking-the-book/)

      The tattered and torn carcasses of book in Micah’s work could well be an appropriate icon for the “post-truth” era and the narrative of the book moving from personal, practical, trusted, and beloved companion to artifact is in some ways the funeral of the book in its traditional form (and this was not lost on Micah, of course).

      I also wonder (following Mandell) whether the post-truth, post-book, era offers a return to something more fluid, if less material. The book qua book becomes less important and the “content” of the book (egad, I’m talking about ideas) becomes more valuable as authors and readers return to the kind of semi-public conversations (in third space/place … see Eichorn’s idea of the copy shop: https://mediterraneanworld.wordpress.com/2016/10/19/copying-and-copy-shops-as-third-place/) where there is no original, no locus classicus, no editio princeps.

      Bill

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  2. On books . . .

    “In books lies the soul of the whole Past Time: the articulate audible voice of the Past, when the body and material substance of it has altogether vanished like a dream.” ~Thomas Carlyle

    “The scholar only knows how dear these silent, yet eloquent, companions of pure thoughts and innocent hours become in the season of adversity.  When all that is worldly turns to dross around us, these only retain their steady value.”  ~Washington Irving

    “Books are embalmed minds.”  ~ Christian Nestell Bovee

    “The past but lives in words; a thousand ages were blank if books had not evoked their ghosts, and kept the pale, unbodied shades to warn us from fleshless lips”. – Edward George Earle Lytton Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Baron Lytton

    “Who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, God’s image, but thee who destroys a good book, kills reason its self.”
    – John Milton

    “God be thanked for books! they are the voices of the distant and the dead, and make us heirs of the spiritual life of past ages.”  ~W.E. Channing

    “Except a living man there is nothing more wonderful than a book!  A message to us from the dead, – from human souls whom we never saw, who lived perhaps thousands of miles away; and yet these, on those little sheets of paper, speak to us, teach us, comfort us, open their hearts to us as brothers.”  ~Charles Kingsley

    On floods. . .

    “No matter how full the river, it still wants to grow.” – African Proverb

    “Wild rivers are earth’s renegades, defying gravity, dancing to their own tunes, resisting the authority of humans, always chipping away, and eventually always winning.”
    Richard Bangs, River Gods 

    “Men may dam it and say that they have made a lake, but it will still be a river. It will keep its nature and bide its time, like a caged animal alert for the slightest opening. In time, it will have its way; the dam, like the ancient cliffs, will be carried away piecemeal in the currents.”
    Wendell Berry 

    “Expect poison from the standing water.”
    William Blake 

    “Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it.”
    Holy Bible, The Song of Solomon 8:7

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  3. This weekend, I got to thinking about a book I set last year in Doves Type: http://thedigitalpressbooks.com/NDQ_The_Great_War_Reprint.pdf

    Doves Type has a famous history intimately tied to the book as something more than a commodity (and to a watery fate) that seems poetically appropriate for Codex. (For more on Doves Type see here: http://www.typespec.co.uk/doves-type-history/)

    The issue is that Doves Type is a pretty anti-modern font and there is something unmistakably modern about Micah’s photographs and approach to books. The question is, of course, whether this contradiction is useful and interesting or aesthetically obtuse and disruptive?

    What do folks think?

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  4. If the destruction and reincarnation of Doves Type offers an example of how bookmaking and books can challenge the commodification of books as objects and bookmaking as craft, Ben Pieratt’s Dead Bookstore is another example of the tangled after lives of books that hints at their magic.

    Check it out here: http://deadbookstore.com/

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  5. Making the old new again is the penultimate avant-garde move since modernism, and even before. Personally, I’m all about resurrecting old fonts, old styles, old looks. I think that’s where the creative impulse breaks out. Remix, adapt, tweak.

    There’s something very exciting about it when it happens at the material and formal level, though. Think back to William Morris’ Kelmscott Press. What’s a better castigation of industrial steamprint than remaking books the same way they did in the Medieval era? Yeah, they were astronomically expensive objet d’ art, but that’s the point. And I think it’s a similar point that Bloom’s book makes time and time again.

    What’s a better condemnation of the age of “too much to know,” than making the castaway into art?

    Maybe there’s a need in we readers that all the books and natural or human “deaccessioning” can’t fulfill…

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  6. Bill, making the old new again is the paradigmatic move of the avant-garde since (at least) modernism. If it aint’ broke, right?

    But, there’s something especially interesting about this move when it is done at the level of the material. Consider William Morris’ Kelmscott Press. What’s a better condemnation of industrial steam printing than making gorgeous books in ways they did during the Medieval period? He also resurrecting many old-time fonts, too.

    One of the things I really like about Codex (and there are many) is the way Bloom asks us to think in a similar way that Morris’ books do, but with a twist.

    What’s a better condemnation of the “age of too much to know,” than turning our castaways into art?

    Maybe there’s something missing in we would-be readers that all the books AND all the human or natural “deaccessioning” can’t provide…

    And if that’s the case, we better keep our eyes open.

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  7. Here’s a thought on an earlier comment, probably now untimely, because this contributor lives on book time and not blog time…

    From Bill Carahar’s “Breaking the Book” blog post:

    “digital reading practices that allow texts to be broken open, recombined, undermined, piled upon, distributed and disturbed, is one salutary step toward breaking the book and making the humanities more accessible.” 

    I worry about what “accessible” means here – because it feels like accessibility has been reduced to what I want to call horizontality. You’re reading along and you find something that you don’t understand. What do you do? You open a new tab, google the term, get the info that you’re missing and move on with the text (or lose yourself down the rabbit hole of the next search). This is great – anyone can do it. But it makes us think that the only way a text can be difficult is for it to include some term or concept that we need to look up. And that if we can’t google our way out of a lack of understanding, the writing is either bad (give it a thumbs down or a bad rating) or intentionally obscure (call it “profound,” but by all means don’t try to plumb its depths). This, to be sure, is a new model of reading. But it’s a decidedly shallow model, and disturbing.

    Because a book takes a commitment to read, you have to work to make your way through it. It denies access to anyone not willing to do the thinking work necessary to read it. But it (can) reward the reader with greater understanding—and deeper understanding.

    I wrote a little statement about my critical activities and it is directly opposed to this movement, so I’ll post it here as food for thought.

    * Notes on interrupting the horizontal. Contemporary art that resists flattening. *

    Rhizomic. Thinking in the Internet age is horizontal: I read one thing, which links me to another, which suggests a different search that I open in a different tab. I approach the query from each side indexed by the Search Engine. (Never above or below, always from the side.) And the structure of the Search Engine is rhizomic, too, websites verified by their horizontal reach.

    Vertical thinking online is reserved for corporations structuring the Internet experience, siphoning value off the tops of the activities of billions of users running their paths in the mazes those companies build for them. The users move horizontally; the corporations busily collect any value that floats up out of the maze, or is generated by the heat of so much horizontal movement. Of course, the only thing a corporation can gather is money.

    I am interested in art that works vertically, not horizontally. Art that punctures the maze, the horizontal plane, opening out into the infinite space above and below. Human space, not economic space. Mockery and ridicule have grown around this idea like barnacles on a stationary vessel, but there is still potential. If art must subvert (and making visible universal human values hardly sounds subversive), then I am interested in subversion against the reduction of all reality to a flat plane.

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