THE THING-NESS OF THE BOOK
“A book is a network.” Great phrase. Evocative. From new-publishing guru Todd Sattersten. I picked it up at a mind-widening webinar he hosted last week via O’Reilly TOC. (I highly recommend him and them to authors, publishers and marketers.)
So: book as network. Let’s mess around with this. Let’s riff. WWHS? What would Heidegger say? He’d call a book an “occasion” (translated from the German, of course). He’d say it’s an experience the reader has. A special experience. One to which a reader is invited, as to a wedding. So that thing that we normally call “a book”–the bound pages of ink, the pixels glowing, the audio bytes–that is but an invitation. The book is in its reading. It is its reading. A book is more verb than noun.
Let’s play some more. Let’s go sci-fi. WWACCS? What would Arthur C. Clarke say? He might speak of a book as a dynamic, meta-spatial space-time portal. Portal. Okay. So a book is a door. But where is that door? In the ink on paper? In the pixels? In the recorded voice? Well, yes. But that’s just Door Number One. Door Number Two opens as those letters/pixels/sounds evoke words that suggest worlds. Each word operates as a door to image and meaning. When well-crafted, words then self-assemble into worlds. Worlds that live in non-spatial space. In mind and imagination. So a book is a series of doors. Doors opening doors. The operative word here (pun intended) being “open,” not “door.” A book is a dynamic process. It happens. It plays out. Its deeper nature is more temporal than spatial. After all, reading is not instant. Unlike painting, it’s serial (though the Cubists might claim that absorbing a painting is equally serialized, formed in our minds by restless, parsing-reconstructing brains…). When we read, word-worlds pile up sequentially, building phrases, building meaning, spooling forward (there’s a directionality here) into poems, stories, narratives. A book begins in imagination, beyond space-time. And, moving through the reader, that’s where it “ends.” Or, more accurately, “lives.”
Which leads to one more juicy image. WWJAWS? What would John Archibald Wheeler say? He coined the word: a book is a wormhole. A shortcut through space-time. It’s a “moving” (forgive the pun) point of connection. A non-dimensional, omni-dimensional channel. From nowhere to somewhere. From author to reader. From this world to another. From real worlds to imagined ones. From ourselves to characters. And from all of that back out/in to ourselves and each other. A grand, twisting, strange loop that exists only when a reader co-creates it by moving through it.
And therein lies the tale. Therein lies the only important reality with which I live day to day as a writer. Forget the publishing hysterics, the marketing hoopla. I follow/create strange loops every day. I go over and over them hoping to craft the most beautiful sequence of doors, the most gravitationally-powerful wormhole into meta-worlds that I find meaningful. Hoping that my meager invitation of words will be enough to compel a reader to bring my book into existence. It’s frought, this work. But it’s what I’ve been given to do.
© i.e. ideas expressed 2011