Saturday, February 9, 2013

Enigmatic books - 2

Books are not dead
I wrote about enigmatic books, an enigmatic encyclopedia, mystery books and an enigmatic bookshop. Even with modern media, e-readers, PDF-files physical books are still fascinating objects. I fully agree with Joe Qeenan - and I think McLuhan said similar things:
A noted scientific writer recently argued that the physical copy of a book was an unimportant fetish, that books were “like the coffin at a funeral.” 
Despite such comments, I am not worried about the future of books. If books survived the Huns, the Vandals, and the Nazis, they can survive noted scientific writers. 
One friend says that in the future “books will be beautifully produced, with thick paper, and ribbons, and proper bindings.” People who treasure books will expect them to look like treasures. And so they will have ribbons. Another says, wistfully, that books will survive “as a niche, a bit like taking a carriage ride in Central Park. But more than that.”
Parallel evolution or copy?
Recently I saw five of such "classic" books - beautifully produced, with thick paper, and ribbons, and proper bindings - in Boijmans Museum in Rotterdam:
The Wiki Truth, is a series of five gigantic books. For these books Kyra van Ineveld selected the largest articles on Wikipedia and printed the top five. She printed them on her home-printer and made classic encyclopedias out of it. On the bottom of the book you read the first sentence that was ever written in this article; and at the top of the book you see the article as it is now. You see the information being created, being changed, being criticized, and being deleted.
I was struck by the similarity of this work to a conceptual artwork by James Bridle:
This particular book—or rather, set of books—is every edit made to a single Wikipedia article, The Iraq War, during the five years between the article’s inception in December 2004 and November 2009, a total of 12,000 changes and almost 7,000 pages. It amounts to twelve volumes: the size of a single old-style encyclopaedia. It contains arguments over numbers, differences of opinion on relevance and political standpoints, and frequent moments when someone erases the whole thing and just writes “Saddam Hussein was a dickhead”.
 James Bridle's artwork predates Kyra van Ineveldts artwork. I am not clear if it's independent parallel evolution - the idea is "in the air" - or a conscious or unconscious copy. I hope it is not a copy, because then the story is much more interesting.

Unreadable books
The E.A.Poe story "The man of the crowd" contains the quote from an unnamed German author: “Es lässt sich nicht lesen” (It does not allow itself to be read). I have seen and read many of the books: Gravity's rainbow (Pynchon), Of Grammatology (Derrida), The road to reality (Penrose) but I stumbled on a very interesting sample at Witte de With gallery in Rotterdam.
Edited by General Books LLC it is a "print on demand" book in a spartan layout with a text that is almost impossible to read because of all the OCR-errors. A fascinating book! Who would publish such a thing?
 The editors fully acknowledge the problems with OCR-technology in their FAQ:
  • Why are there so many typos in my paperback?
  • Why are illustrations missing from my paperback?
  • Why is text missing from my paperback?
But still they charge $9.99 per book of $14.99 per subscription. When you have access to and Gutenberg, why would you want to have these books? Is it some kind of scam? If so, it is very interesting, conceptual scam. I'm tempted to buy this book.

Code books
And in the same gallery they have The Marque of the Third Stripe by Alexandre Singh. Yet another mysterious book.
It has a very pleasant size and weight. Bible-like, a little specialist encyclopedia filled with strange codes and abbreviations. Is this philosophy? Or a digital version of the I-Ching?
But then there is this classic story. Gothic indeed.
This book is on Amazon, for $59. And it has one enthusiastic review. I'm inclined to agree with the reviewer.
Wonderful light
The books are beautiful in the cool winter light of the gallery. A nice place to sit and read.
“Es lässt sich nicht lesen”: Poe and the Inscrutable
A few fascinating scaned books, available for free:
Waves of the Sea and Other Water Waves (1910)
Waves of sand and snow and the eddies which make them (1914)
Alexandre Singh in Witte de With:
Alexandre Singh:
Artist as Circumlocutor

1 comment:

  1. Interesting post. what will become of books? What is the gothic story, looks an interesting read? Love the blog, incidentally, you might like this blog of drifts around Manchester, England: