Used bookstores are the kind of place that I like to get lost in. Martha and I enjoy different kinds of books, so we inevitably split up and meet again for coffee at an appointed time. She complains lightly that she often finds me in the same spot that she left me, still reading the same book! But this is not really true at all.
Sometimes I wander around with a vaguely disinterested stare until something catches my eye, and then I settle in to investigate. My theory is holographic. If I pick up the thread in one place it will inevitably lead me back to where I need to be, and the journey is my entertainment. I subscribe to The Perennial Philosophy…. in which each thread is always leading back to the essential nature of a thing.
(see: Aldous Huxley _The Perennial Philosophy_
“If one is not oneself a sage or saint, the best thing one can do, in the field of metaphysics, is to study the works of those who were, and who, because they had modified their merely human mode of being, were capable of a more than merely human kind and amount of knowledge.”)
That is not to say that I subscribe to the romantic sense that someone becomes more than human by some means. Rather, I would take the opposite notion- that human is pretty darn good enough. But to realize the full potential of what a human can be, no one approach is better than another, but must be fully engaged in order to benefit from it. There is some meandering thread that brings one back to who or what we already are, but now, from another perspective we might realize what it is to be fully human having made the journey.
We inevitably have more books than we need and so once again we go back to the used bookstore to trade in our books. On a recent trip I had a box of books that contained some unusual books and some better collectible hardcover editions that I was pretty certain would be worth a few dollars, but instead when we returned to the desk for our “offer” I was shocked at how little they were worth. “The paper alone,” I thought, “must be worth more than that!” So when we passed a bin in front of the store that said “free books” I noticed a set of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Literary Works and picked them out. The paper was slightly discolored at the edges, but it was a rag paper of good quality.
Musing on the changing nature of books in a contemporary context, I began to have some idea as to how I felt about the paper and its texture, translucency, the touch of a page between fingers. The paper was slightly brittle and I began to tear it. I have cut stencils for many years, going back to my schooldays making snowflakes. In this case, the edges I created were somewhat soft and meandering and I suddenly thought of my paper applique’ on pottery. The most successful of these were a matter of removing the paper cutouts after the clay was a little dry and brittle, the edges tearing through the slip with a meandering effect.
Now the torn paper edge had that informal sense I was missing when I used blades to cut the paper stencils, and I could wander to some extent in an unconscious sense of what was pulling me over the printed words. Now, as the openings are defined as the primary shapes to be removed, it leaves the imprint of their absence.
This is another kind of thread, and the connections between the thoughts expressed by the printed page are not so obvious. If one follows the thread it may appear that no passage has occurred, that the lateral direction of separations of letters are not in fact movement at all. Is it simply a destruction of property? Does it in any sense diminish the words? Since I can with little difficulty bring up the entire collection of Robert Louis Stevenson’s printed works electronically, there may be no need of an actual book printed on an actual page. The words begin to spill out into cyberspace, reflected in the layering of more words floating above the stencils as seen in “Strut” (above)
So the act and the result of tearing a page into complex designs is a kind of renewal of value to the touch and texture of a bookpage. The words are now a secondary kind of texture that create a kind perspective, floating above.
Now, as I skim through the shelves of books in a bookstore, I am looking at the paper, at the quality of the print on the page. Some books fascinate with the variety of typeface and placement of illustrations and chapter headings. The paper, “hmmmm,” I think. Will this tear nicely? What kind of edge will be revealed? It is only secondary that the story can be read directly from the page. Let’s start a new one.
(I can’t convince my own children to take the time to read them either way. Maybe _Treasure Island_ will one day intrigue my grandchildren, but probably they will read or listen to it electronically.)