Are Books Sacred Objects or Just Pulp Fiction?

Reblogged from Anita M. King – Writing Window:

Book lovers — or at least some of them — are up in arms over a DIY craft video that uses books as a crafting material (thanks to @ShelfBuzz on Twitter for bringing this to my attention). In the video, Lauren Conrad demonstrates how to cut off the bindings of books to decorate a storage box, essentially disguising the box as a shelf of books.

Read more… 760 more words

I came across this post by Anita King of Writing Window and I had to share it with you (above).

I have books. Tons of them. Lining the walls of my home office, piled on the floor next to my bed, stacked on the floor and in a basket in the bathroom, in a magazine holder and on the table in the living room, on the dining room table, in boxes in the basement…it doesn’t end. Two years ago, I invested in a Kindle solely for the purpose of reading books and have loved it. If I had the physical book for every book I’ve bought on my Kindle, I’d have to rent a storage unit.  BUT that doesn’t mean I have lost the appreciation and reverence of holding an actual book. The smell of the pulp, the gleam of the ink, the intriguing covers. They still matter to me, but it’s not inherent that I have them, when I’m more concerned about the words contained within.

But could I physically destroy and re-purpose a book for art?

Being an artist myself, I’m reminded of the works of Warhol, Duchamp, and others taking “found objects” and pop culture icons and re-purposing them into works of art, most times tongue-in-cheek. Instead of destroying something, it is elevated into a new idea, a new concept, that opens the mind to things previously un-thought of.

The artist must imaginatively assemble ordinarily unrelated objects or experiences. They must help us look the second time, to explore beneath the surface of ordinary experience. Imagination penetrates ordinariness and things taken for granted. It carries us to the boundaries of what we normally see and inspires us to move beyond the confined commonplace.

If that means desecrating books in order to further the world’s conscience, or even just your own, then by all means, destroy the book. It’s not the physical books themselves that are sacred, but the thoughts and ideology contained within.

Even as our lives become ever more digitalized, the beauty of the printed page continues to hold sway. Take Jonathan Safran Foer’s recent literary dissection of Bruno Schultz’s novel The Street of Crocodiles, which he painstakingly pruned in order to create an entirely new story. Although the concept was more literary experiment than arts and crafts hack-job, the resulting book is a visually stunning reinvention of its preexisting form. To illustrate the multimedia value of this alternative usage, here are ten artists who have transformed traditional texts into works of genuine art.

On the other hand, Kathryn Hughes on Books Blog finds she can’t bear to throw away any book, no matter how bad the prose is or the state of the physical book.

The reason for this self-defeating attitude is, I think, something to do with being brought up to believe that books were almost sacred objects. My parents, who had been children in the second world war, filled my head with stories of how difficult it had been to get new reading material when they were young and so, by extension, what a lucky little girl I was to grow up in the age of the cheap paperback. Later, in school, I heard about how various authoritarian regimes – anything from the Catholic church to Stalinist Russia – had banned books as a way of controlling dissident forces. Later still, as a post-graduate studying the Victorian Age, I learned how the arrival of cheap books in the 1840s had propelled whole swaths of the British population towards self-education and political emancipation.

So to me, books – even bad ones – still equal freedom, knowledge and beauty. And to throw even one of them away seems to me like a crime against humanity.

Thomas Moore likens holding and reading an actual book (compared to an e-reader) to spirituality and a library being the chapel.

In our modern way of thinking, we believe we can separate the contents of a book from the material it’s written on and bound with. We think of a book as information. But anyone who loves books knows that the book is what you hold in your hand and put on a shelf. A library honors a book and easily turns into a sacred place, not too far distant from the sanctuary where I held the big red book against my little head.

When I sign a book — a ritual in itself that I take seriously, almost in a priestly manner — people sometimes tell me that they haven’t read it yet. I always say, “It doesn’t have to be read to be a book. Just keep it in a special place and look at it from time to time.” People know what I mean. I have many books I’ve never read and have no intention of reading. But I keep them enshrined on my home library shelf and would miss them dearly if they disappeared.

For me, a library is a kind of chapel. Spiritual traditions are not as abstract as people think. They are not all about creeds and beliefs. They are concrete, physical, tangible and sensual. There was nothing abstract about that moment in my memory holding the heavy book painfully against my skin as I held it stiff and formal. A library is not an information center, it’s a chapel for books. Your home library, as small as it might be, is also a chapel made sacred by the book itself.

What does this mean when it comes to “re-purposing” books or pieces of books as the materials for a craft project or piece of visual artwork? Is it okay to destroy something beautiful in order to make something beautiful? Or is a book something too sacred to touch for any other purpose but reading?

High-Minded and Low-Brow Writings: True Art Needs No Explanation

Yesterday, I received a comment from a reader about a short poem I had written that questioned my vocabulary. (Although he did go on to praise other things about the poem, as others have.)

“This would have been amazing, had the vocabulary not seemed so used.”

While I wasn’t upset by the comment, it did set me to thinking – Is it possible to have an “overdone vocabulary?” It all has to do with language and vocabulary and writing. There are those that complain when poems seem “lofty” and “high-brow,” using “big” words and a literary vocabulary. Yet, there is the opposing base that gripes when words are too simple, “childish,” not big enough, and consider the work lacking. Some find problems with poems that are seemingly too complex, too abstract for a mere mortal to understand. Others think a work is too muddling, too low-country, too understandable to qualify as poetic quality. How do we define what is poetry and form and prose and appropriate? Or can it be all of the above? While I may use the word pulchritudinous, another may simply say beautiful. Are either of these wrong? Or right?

According to William Zinsser, author of On Writing Well, “It is a question of using the English language in a way that will achieve the greatest clarity and strength.” He pounds the pulpit with “Simplify, simplify.” He denounces clutter as a one-trick pony suitable for over-blown politicians and the like. Zinsser says that clutter “is the laborious phrase that has pushed out the short word that means the same thing.” Instead of people and businesses saying “now,” they say “currently,” or “at the present time,” or “presently.” Yet, all of this can be simply said with the word “now.”

Poetry is a tricky subject. Sometimes, the higher-minded words are appropriate and the poem would suffer without them. There is a beauty to the expressive words. On the flip side, there are poems where it is obvious the writer was using his thesaurus a bit too much to “blow up” his poem. Yet, in certain poems the beauty is in the simplicity. This can apply to any kind of writing, not just poetry. (As a side note, Zinsser would criticize my use of the word, “yet,” but I can’t seem to give it up – useless clutter?)

It is similar to my approach to my paintings. What is my responsibility as an artist, a writer, to the public? Do I create pieces that everyone can understand or no one can understand but me? Or is the value in creating a piece where each person sees what they need to see for themselves? Is it something where I have to stand by the side and explain to each person as they engage in it or is it something where I can let it be and a person will know the meaning behind it all? Is it worth writing a poem or a book or short story where the reader has to have a thesaurus, dictionary, Google, and what-have-you beside him just to try to make it through the first paragraph?

I’m reminded of a scene in Steven James’s book, The Bishop, where Tessa, Patrick Bower’s stepdaughter, is illicitly meeting her newly discovered biological father, Paul Lansing, at a sculpture exhibit. Lansing asks her opinion on the sculptures and he’s astounded by what she can deduce from looking at the sculpture. As he provokes her further, she exasperatedly tells him,

I’m no artist, but I don’t think the point of art is to mean, I think it’s to render. If it doesn’t do that, if it needs a plaque to explain it, it’s not art. It’s like nature – what does a bird mean by its song? What does a flower mean when it blooms? It means beauty. Any explanation beyond that is superfluous.

She feels that the sculptures were “completely lame” – trying too hard to say too much, or so esoteric that they failed to say anything at all. In the latter case, the museum posted little plaques to explain the meaning behind the sculptures. As Tessa reveals, true art, real art, needs no explanation. There’s no epilogue at the end of a novel telling you what the story was supposed to mean. No commentary at the end of symphony explaining what the composer was trying to communicate with those specific notes. No footnotes clarifying the meaning of poems – at least not any that are worth reading. Art either stands on its own or it does not. As soon as it needs to be explained, it ceases to be art.

I have been criticized and criticized others for all these very things. I judge when I read a simple piece and a complex piece – oh, it’s too basic…oh, it’s way too snobbish…Or maybe that is the point of every piece. MAYBE – Just MAYBE – THAT is finding what it whispers to me. I have been moved to tears by the simplest words and enlightened by the more complex words. How can a word, vocabulary, become overdone and overused when those words may move one, but not another? My simple is your childish and overdone. My complex is your snobbish and high-brow. I love what you hate, and you hate what I love. Yet, we are all moved by the same piece.

Share your thoughts with me….

The poem that struck the chord:

My Unborn Dream

I wait with bated breath
A sigh upon the whispering breeze
Lifting a tiny seed of hope.
You are cradled inside me
Nestled between my heart and desire.
A longing to feel, to breathe, to taste, to smell…
Your heartbeat thudding in my breast.
A mirage of vaporing tendrils
Wavering in the muted distance
Misty smoke visions un-yet seen.
I bear the weight of your siren call
Beckoning with your imagined baby blues.
A ghost of things to be
My unborn dream.