Many thanks to Scott Esposito at Conversational Reading for pointing me toward this really fascinating page on books as art objects.
A favorite image from the page:
I’ve seen a variety of things like this in recent years, and I suspect to some degree that seeing the book as a form of art is tied to a sense of its demise. As things die, they become works of art, perhaps? The Freudians have already covered this, I’m sure. In the infancy of books, of course, books were also thought of as treasurers to be handled like works of art or other revered objects. Books in general were far too expensive for the masses to obtain, and as a general rule this continued for a very long time. Owning books, as much as reading them, signified your cultural and class superiority. This all changed gradually over centuries after Gutenberg, but changed with a vengeance with the invention of the paperback.
Perhaps now that television and the internet have taken on most of the cultural purposes of the paperback and the newspaper—cheap entertainment and ready information for the masses—books are again left to become objects of art, treasures indulged in primarily by a small coterie of collectors. Strikes me as depressing, just a bit, but I still love these photos.
Leslie Fiedler. Who?
I couldn’t help but notice Scott’s post on Friday noted a new book by the late Leslie Fiedler, whom Scott admits he didn’t know. Alas, how far the mighty have fallen. I used to want to be Leslie Fiedler. He made cultural criticism seem romantic. Now cultural criticism has all the romance of oral dentistry or working at Chic-Fil-a. (Does anyone know why they spell it this way?)
Seriously though, Fiedler was one of the few critics I’ve ever known whose work aspired to and in some instances could be called literary. This despite the much vaunted declarations that criticism and theory were literary genres, these made by literary theorists who could not write. Roland Barthes, who I think came up with the idea, also comes close to this ideal in some of his work. But declaration is not achievement. Fiedler and people like Barthes—Fiedler more than Barthes–are to be thanked for showing us that cultural criticism could actually care about and love language, that how it communicates can mesh with what it does communicate.
Clintons continue attack on literature…er…Obama.
By now, I guess, everyone has heard that Bill Clinton and hip-mate Hillary Clinton—or is it the other way around—got in trouble for deriding Obama as a purveyor of fairy-tales and fantasy. In some future post I think I’ll take up the idea that the Clintons who once represented the hopeful face of baby-boomerism, now represent the craggy and toothless grin of what to expect as baby-boomers start using canes and walkers. “No hope for you, people, you silly and naïve young whippersnappers.” My general sense is that the Clinton approach demonstrates again and again that they are part of the system, so broken by it that they have to replicate it, like dogs licking the hands of an abusive master. Trouble is they may be right. Systems persist for a good reason, the gradually wear down the hopes of those who would change them and they are impervious to appeals from those outside their own logic. The smart money still goes with Clinton, but for the moment I feel like I’m still young enough to hope.
But my real issue with all this is the Clinton’s perfidious campaign against the imagination and literature. (Beware those who use the term “perfidious” wantonly). As I pointed out in earlier posts, Clinton has all the literary imagination of a manual on how to fix my furnace. Hillary works too hard to have time for literature. Now they are using a perfectly wonderful and culturally important literary form as a derogatory epithet. As Vladimir Propp could tell them, fairy tales make us what we are.
Do those of us who are reading for our lives, an increasingly aggrieved and marginalized minority who must struggle against the glass ceiling of…well, something I’m sure…set in place by the billions of non-readers in the world, really need the Clintons piling on with their anti-literary epithets?
I think enough is enough. We need to stand up against unthinking and derogatory stereotypes of reading culture.
READERS OF THE WORLD UNITE!