BODY MIND SOUL
|by Mark Rooker|
Books are the bees
which carry the quickening pollen
from one to another mind.
James Russell Lowell
The SOUL of a Book
Among the greatest inventions in history are the spoken, written, and printed word. For these have allowed Humankind to communicate, preserve, and distribute its thoughts across time and distance. Printed books represent one of the highest achievements of these goals. The author of a printed book has the ability to communicate at length to millions of people around the world and across centuries.
However, a book is more than an just an efficient device for communicating, preserving, and distributing thought. Books have shown the uncommon ability to inspire love and hate.
In 1983, The Gospel Book of Henry the Lion, Duke of Saxony sold for a record $11.9 million.
Since its release, hundreds of attempts have been made made to ban J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye from schools.
The Satanic Verses inspired death threats against its author Solmon Rushdie.
The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck spent 598 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List, and has over 5 million copies currently in print.
Uncle Tom's Cabbin helped foment the outrage against slavery that contributed to the start of the Civil War.
Stephen King's novels have made him the highest paid, and best-recognized author alive.
Books are at the core of many of the world's major religions (The Bible, The Koran, The Torah), most philosophies (Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil, Hegel's The Phenomenology of Mind, Sartre's Being and Nothingness), nearly all systems of government (Plato's Republic, Marx's Communist Manifesto, Confucius' Anelects), and every educational program (Black's Law Dictionary, Gray's Anatomy, etc.).
For books are more than books,
...they are the life
The very heart and core of ages past,
The reason why men lived
...and worked and died,
The essence and quintessence
...of their lives.
A book is a part of life, a manifestation of life, just as much as a tree or a horse or a star. It obeys its own rhythms, its own laws, whether it be a novel, a play, or a diary, the deep, hidden rhythm of life is always there--that of the pulse, the heart beat.
Books are powerful, but what gives them their power and makes them the focus of such intense feelings? I believe it is because books have the potential for an afterlife. In other words, often a number of factors combine to create a sympathetic resonnance between the book and its reader. Through this resonnance, part of a book stays with its reader, living on in his/her memory, and sometimes profoundly affects the reader's life. In this way--through the impact a book has on its reader--the book has what can be defined as a SOUL, and it is from this that a book gains its power.
This literary SOUL has two sources. The first is the book's content or MIND.
The MIND of Literature
Literary SOUL has proved especially strong in narrative forms of literature, as the Mind of literature is a vehicle for very direct communication between authors and readers. Authors weave their imaginations and thoughts into the fabric of a text that readers unravel and re-weave into their own thoughts and imaginations. It gives free reign to the minds of the authors, giving them a power usually reserved for gods; the power to invent whole worlds, populate them with imaginary people, create lives for those people, and have them do things that their creators would never dare do themselves. Through these writings, the author also empowers the readers' imaginations to experience invented worlds, to meet imaginary people, to live lives they weren't born to, and to do things they would never dare.
All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you; the good and the bad, the ecstacy, the remorse, and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was.
There are books... which take rank in your life with parents and lovers and passionate experiences, so medicinal, so stringent, so revolutionary, so authoritative.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
This MIND is especially powerful because it is immersive. As they read, readers lose their awareness of the reading process and enter a state of reverie in which the absorption of text is subconscious. Birkerts,98 Within this state of reverie, readers make a connection with the text, and instead of seeing the words on the page, see what the words represent in their imaginations, so that through a trick of the imagination, the readers' minds clothe the authors' words in whatever memories and life experiences they have that are similar to what the stories describe. Birkerts, 98 So when the authors describe a perfect summer day in the park, readers see particular parks on specific days in their past experience. Through this mental act of fleshing fiction in personally experienced fact, this "deep reading" has profound power over readers, as in a way, the text projects and juxtaposes upon their souls. Birkerts, 98 They are able to experience the author's world in first person, to try on different personalities, different lifestyles, and to see firsthand what it is like to be someone or something else. The result of this direct contact with the readers' souls is that the author is able to mold them in ways not easily possible in any other art form.
How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book! The book exists for us, perchance, that will explain our miracles and reveal new ones. The at present unutterable things we may find somewhere uttered.
Henry David Thoreau
For many readers, the power of this literary MIND becomes a gentle form of addiction--a type of love-- and through this love of literature, comes the love of books, as through the association of form with content, people come to love the form itself.
This form, or BODY, is the second source of SOUL.
The BODY of Literature
When books were monetarily precious objects slowly copied by hand on expensive animal skins, it was natural that the people who produced them wanted to invest them with a physical beauty that would reflect their value. They created elaborate illuminations to adorn the text. They developed special bindings to gather the leaves and keep them together. They fabricated special covers to protect the leaves and other contents, and adorned them with precious metals and gemstones. In short, they created BODIES for these books that were functional works of art, designed not only to protect, transport, and communicate the literature each book contained, but also to enhance, and ornament the MIND of the work.
As a result, the owners of these books were able to value them as did their creators. This worth was exemplified by their willingness to pay, on average, the value of a farm for a single book, and assumedly buying because of the BODY of the book as much as its MIND. Because of their extreme cost, books were available only to the wealthy and the clergy who produced them, but as only the wealthy and the clergy knew how to read, the high cost of books wasn't really a problem. As a result of this, books became a status symbol of the wealthy and educated aristocracy.
When Gutenberg invented the printing press, and as paper became an acceptable replacement for costly sheepskins, books evolved into more ordinary objects. The status derived from owning a book, and the intellectual power gained from literacy, created a demand for the product of Gutenberg's invention that could no longer be supplied by precious illuminated books. These social and economic pressures caused the book to evolve into a more practical form which was able to be mass produced more economically. As a result of the lower price of these books, literacy became increasingly common and, for the first time, book ownership was within the means of the growing middle class.
The wealthiest class, of course, reacted to these mass produced books much as they would later react to other kinds of mass production during the Industrial Revolution. In their view, if books weren't hand crafted and one-of-a-kind, they were inferior. The new books lacked the illuminations, parchment, precious metals and jewels, and in this way were truly inferior. However, what they lost in physical preciousness, the new printed books made up for in sociological value as they came to symbolize a new literacy and intellectual freedom liberated from the domination of the church. In addition, with the creation of less expensive means of book production came the ability to produce a wider range of literature including biographies, histories, and novels for general consumption. These powerful literatures helped retain the love of the form itself as the more practical forms of the codex became the physical manifestation of the literature they contained.
There is a fundamental connection between form and material, between human reason and the human body.
Printed matter is one of the physical bodies of the abstract realm of thought. When I hold a book I am aware of its weight, size, texture, fluidity or solidity. Paper becomes the skin, ink the vehicle for the embodiment of knowledge. A mental experience extends to a sensory one. I am also aware of its fragility...
Rebecca Mendez Mendez, 25
Today, though books are common and accessible to everyone, and though the BODIES of most are stripped to nearly artless functionality, their physical form still carries value. Even the most ordinary books bring readers pleasurable physical experiences through sight, touch, sound, smell, and taste. Through the physical form, readers experience the visual aesthetics of design-color, composition of typography and image, visual texture and use of materials, size, proportion, and over-all "look." They experience the weight and bulk of books, the mixtures of the tactile textures of cloth, leather, cardboard and paper, the resiliency of the structures, the kinetics of their size. They experience the crisp sound of the turning pages, the muffled pop of books shutting, the tiny rasp of fingers across the texture of paper. They experience the sharp chemical smell of new ink or the musty, dusty smell of old paper and leather and mildew. They remember the taste of paper, leather, and cloth they chewed as children.
These physical experiences are by nature very intimate. They are personal "one-on-one" experiences between books and their readers. They are carried out at close range and often in very private situations, and so carry with them some associations with the value placed on other intimacies.
I know every book of mine by its smell, and I have but to put my nose between the pages to be reminded of all sorts of things.
Indeed, the behavior of readers has more in common with the play of intimacy than with the public decorum of art viewing or music listening... When we read--the conventional distance between our eye and the page is around fourteen inches--we often become the lectern that receives the book: chest, arms, lap, or thighs. This proximity is the is the territory of embrace, of possession; not to be entered without permission.
Buzz Spector Spector, 16
Printed matter carries the notion of temporality: like the human body it adheres to a life cycle, and it will eventually decay. The end of print, a removal from the material and sensory realm, the end of a kind of bodily pleasure.
Rebecca Mendez Mendez, 25
The BODIES of books also give added information to their contents. Whether they are heavy, leather, cord-bound first-editions, or simple paperbacks, their BODIES clue their readers as to what to expect of their contents. Readers learn this vocabulary of book spines as children from countless trips to libraries and bookstores. They learn that the expensive leather binding probably contains a treasured work of literature, while the paperback probably contains a more ordinary work of literary entertainment. They learn to guess fairly accurately from how books look what kind of writing they contain, how valued those writings are, and whether they are fiction or non-fiction. Readers learn to interpret how printed books age and give cues to the richness, longevity and enduring relevance of their contents.
All of this means that the BODY of a book is often as integral to the enjoyment of that book as its MIND. The impact of one helps to determine that of the other. BODY plus MIND equals SOUL.
please turn to part two.
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