Book as dance — NOT an object but a time-art. This is a concept I’ve been pursuing for a while. Bless Dave Lull, “the cross-pollinating librarian,” for sending me this quote this morning, just as I was about to embark on the rough seas of explanation. (I don’t have anything against book critics per se — just the idea that I have to agree with them. In this case, we have a happy coincidence.)
“Truth is so unstable for Monson, in fact, that Vanishing Point is not only not a memoir but not a book as well––or, rather, not just a printed, permanent one. Monson’s website, www.otherelectricities.com, is an essential part of the experience of reading the book: Footnoted words are expanded upon online, to move the book beyond its status as an artifact and to reflect “flux, motion, synapses connecting and reconnecting and thinking exploding everywhere.” Even so, the old-fashioned text explodes in its own way. In “Exteriority” he pushes the text to the very edge of the page, removing the margins to show just how much they frame stories on paper. “Solipsism”––the essay that opens with those two pages of “Me”s––sprays out into sidebars, footnotes, and marginal digressions, the better to expose the performative act of writing.”
A book is not necessarily an artifact. A PRINTED book is exactly that, whether a medieval Bible chained to a pulpit or a yellowed and flaking pulp paperback lost in a garaged box of debris. AS ARTIFACT, a book has a lot to say. I’ve often noted that Blackfeet will save a book, not on a shelf, but deep in a trunk, to protect it. Bob Scriver used to keep his Masonic book wrapped in a silk scarf in his underwear drawer. He never read it. When I moved it aside to make room for clean underwear, he was very upset. A codex as juju — the magic of the form and not the content.
It has become fashionable to say, following the lead that may have started with the atom and the cell and now characterized by the algorithm and the genome, that a book is information. It certainly is, if you are looking at the marks we translate into meaning. It might be in another way, if you value facts above all else and are reading to find out “truth” — which would explain why some people are so intent on knowing the “real facts.” And it’s true that one of the shared characteristics of print on paper and electronically produced print is information — the same words in the same order. Audible books, read aloud from a printed page, are just another kind of information about the same immutable composition.
NOT “flux, motion, synapses connecting and reconnecting and thinking exploding everywhere.” Though that happens if the composition evokes what it ought.
At the moment I’m creating a book that has no name yet. It happens that my co-writer, Tim Barrus, writes poetry constantly. If he could, he would rather dance but since his disintegrating bones prevent that, he dances his fingers through the music of thought, producing strong images. Last summer he and one of his boys were diagnosed with AIDS dementia. The HIV virus was in both their brains. The boy, Tristan, who had been battered and compromised so much in his short but vivid life, died rather quickly after Tim took him apart from the others (to shield them as much as Tristan) to a sequestered and elemental shore where the two of them, plus their dogs, sat in blankets sipping cups of scotch while the sun went down. In a while, Tristan didn’t know Tim’s name, but he recognized and craved the smell and feel of him right to the end.
As the days went by, Tim posted what he wrote and I downloaded each post. When I read through them, I saw that it was an extraordinary record. Not a memoir, not a novel, not even a poetry anthology, but shifting consciousness against — this time — the music of the sea which has always meant the mystery of life and death. He added photos and videos, not possible in a codex, but this material could easily become that kind of “book,” so that’s what I’m doing.
As for himself, the virus in his brain is an inconvenience and means he’s a little different every day, but he makes his own “book” — an art book in which he writes directly, draws, paints, leaves prints, folds in objects — all things one can do to books between covers. Tim is a very hands-on person. Lucky for Tristan that much of his life has been using that characteristic in the physical care of children: feeding, washing, diapering, cradling. He faced the facts of the situation by fly-fishing in streams that fed the ocean.
With my temperament and education, I’m more interested in what one might call mental fly-fishing: teasing the idea up out of the depths in something like devotion, reflection, attention. My model is from preaching: that the sermon is something created by the interaction between preacher and listener, the thought-construct of one person reaching out to evoke thought-constructs in the listeners.
When I was circuit-riding, I used to preach each sermon four times in four towns and since the groups were small, I was in steady and individual eye-contact with each person. Though each was clearly reacting in a unique way, in the best of times we were all caught up in the electricity of ideas, very much like the best of love-making, if you can accept the latter not being physical. Can’t it be “virtual?” (I accept the double meaning.)
I’m merely arranging Tim’s words, adding a few of my own, editing for clarity, in a way that is only possible after years of working together. Last night Tim edited a post of mine about Djordji on our vlog called “Orpheus in the Catacombs” orpheus in the catacombs (http://orpheus-catacombs.tumblr.com) which is meant to pique your interest in a manuscript about the just-past trajectory of the art school for boys at risk formerly called “Cinematheque Films” and now sequestered as “The Studio” to protect the boys.
Tim has NEVER edited anything by me until now: he added information about Djordji that I didn’t have. I welcome it. Djordji wears a helmet because he pounds his head on walls when he’s frustrated. There is no helmet to protect from AIDS dementia. It does help to have the brain cells of sixty years of interaction with the world. Tim is volcanic, artesian – both fire and water coming from somewhere underground.
My belief is that a body is a codex, a way of accessing experience and even offering it to another as if holding out a hand in an invitation to dance, something that changes constantly, always meaningful even if not intentionally. This kind of writing is not a “book” but it is possible in a “blog.”