Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Books Are Not, Necessarily, Meant to Be Read

I recently had a conversation with Elazar Benyoëtz, a German poet-o-philosopher, about the object called a book. He believes that "people are misunderstanding the function of books; books are not meant, necessarily, to be read".

Benyoëtz's library consists of thousands and thousands of books that are practically everywhere: walls, floor, closets, boxes, jackets' pockets... He lives with his books not only physically, but also emotionally: he can vividly depict any possible detail about any of them - the content, of course, but also any related element of meta-data - the cover, the smell, the touch; the author; the time; the space.

And yet, "books are not, necessarily, meant to be read". According to Benyoëtz, books are potentials. If you wish, they are the early ancestors of Schrödinger's cat. As long as they are not read, standing still on the shelf or piled up on the floor, they represent a potential parallel world. Once they are opened - well, at that point the potential is gone.

"I find it much more fascinating to write about a book that I have never read than about a book that I have read", says Benyoëtz, following the logic of books-as-potentials.

But there's much more to this approach than the romantic allusion to the knight on the white horse; Benyoëtz is serious about the impact of closed books, of those potentials, on his existence. The lives of potential-readers are affected by their physical proximity to books, as if those potential-worlds exert their gravitational power from within the cover. "I would have been a completely different writer if I didn't have those books around me, just as I would have been a completely different writer if I have read them".

I'm not sure if books are potentials only in the physical proximity to a potential-reader, like those noiseless falling forest trees, or that books are potentials independently of us. It doesn't really matter. What's important is the new perspective on this row of parallel worlds, of collective intelligence, placed on a shelf. Probably the books inter-communicate, creating bounds and links among different realities; probably they affect the human beings in their surrounding, in much the same way that thoughts affect water (and, human beings are 80% water, Dr. Masaru Emoto, What The Bleep).

My intuition tells me that this perspective is pertinent to the understanding of our relationships with Cyberspace, the new emerging medium of our live-and-kicking collective intelligence. As I presented in an earlier post, it is no longer clear who controls who (web is an extension, a subordinate, of man, or man is an extension, a subordinate, of web), nor who needs the other for its/his/her existence.

Also, it would be interesting to investigate the alterations in the notions of 'physical proximity' and 'a book' under the web paradigm. For instance, does adding a new RSS feed to my feed reader is equivalent to purchasing a book and placing it on my shelf? Am I affected by unread RSS feeds in the same way that those closed books in my library affect me?


1. There are more than 263,000 pictures of "personal" books on Flickr.

2. Throughout history, books have been burned, just like human beings. In ancient times, books were handed over to the hangman for termination. Wikipedia has an interesting entry on book burning.

Heinrich Heine: "Dort, wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen" ("Where they burn books, they will end in burning human beings.")

Image licensed under the GFDL by the photographer, Gregory Maxwell.

3. Feed Burner? Think again. :-)

4. The above great shot of Parallel Worlds is from Still Memory.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:30 AM  

Merci pour cet article que je suis parvenue à lire en entier, avec plaisir et connivence. j'ai moi-même pu vérifier le pouvoir magique des livres quand l'un d'eux s'est adressé à moi en tombant spontanément d'une étage : L'attraction passionnée de Fourrier. A l'époque, cet événement résonna comme coup de tonnerre dans le désert

By Blogger Muli Koppel, at 11:44 AM  

Merci Muriel

By Blogger Ian, at 11:48 PM  

When a book is written, isn't it written to be read? I suppose I could talk to the wall for the pleasure of hearing my own voice or to work something out but it seems kind of silly to spend so much energy merely to bolster local gravitation in the world's libraries. If books were only potentials there would be no books.

That said, I do agree with the idea of unread books changing us. Thinking about starting a conversation with someone can force us to have conversations with ourselves we never would have had in the first place. Same with books – if you consider reading a book to be like conversing with the author.

Thanks, for the excellent post.

Ian Stewart

By Blogger Muli Koppel, at 6:55 AM  

Hi Ian

Hence, the insistence on the word “Necessarily”.
But there is more.
“Reading” has many flavors; so when we say “Reading” to which of the flavors do we refer to?
There’s the linear, synchronous kind of reading that which starts with one cover and never ends till it gets to the other side of the book. When we ask “Have you read that book?” we usually are referring to this act of Reading, and yet this act is by far, imho, not the most popular one.
Some people, for instance, can only do with speed reading, or with “Diagonal Reading”.
Others read, in principle, only a certain portion of the book. There’s a well known literature critic who acknowledged reading, in principle, the first 30 pages of any book. When asked about the ethics behind it, he insisted that the first 30 pages contain it all: the draft of the story, the talent of the author etc.
More others read a page here and a page there; they read the cover, they read about the author in Wikipedia – and they are completely ok with it.
Others treat their books as a fetish.
More others, myself included, watch their piles of books and say “You can take me, Devil, when I’m through reading them all”, making sure the piles will never cease to grow.
Wittgenstein admitted in his last interview that he never read Aristotle. Still, I’m sure that he lived with Aristotle’s books in a very intimate fashion.

For all of the above, the act of Reading is continuous; the relationships with the book are always under construction. Books are a never ending story.

Ian, thanks for you comment which made me think about “Reading”.

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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Symbols 2.0: How Did We Get Here?

My first visual post – Shifting Extensions – almost made this blog famous, as Dave Winer spotted out the picture and wrote about it. Only, he referred his readers to Flickr, rather than to this blog...

This is only to say that one picture has been proved to worth, if not a thousand words, then at least a thousand views by scripting news' readers.

Symbols2.0 - how did we get here? is my second attempt in visual blogging. My assumption here was that by aggregating the symbols that made this Reality that we live in, some themes of our Zeitgeist will auto-emerge.

And indeed, already from the initial set of aggregated symbols I could notice three clear themes: Media (Marshall McLuhan), Reality (Philip K. Dick) and Time (McLuhan again)

Media, Medium and Message are in a constant reorganization. The impact of the new mediums on the messages, on us and on the institutionalized media – is flagrant.

Reality? What Reality?
As I mentioned in the Avatars post, Real and Reality are gradually losing their categorizing power, and consequently their meaning. The Fightwares post was another example of these blurring borders between us and the machines, and SL, Second Life, is already a destabilizer to the meaning of RL, Real Life.

The third prominent theme is Time. McLuhan discussed the cultural implications of "Real Time" – of the fact that there's no longer a "piece-of-time" between a cause and its effect; between a decision and an action; between the sense and the response.

We live in a culture where Time equals Pain. We use the words "Time Killer" to refer to anything that helps us evaporate this negative dimension, with the same connotation we use when referring to a pain killer drug.

So Real Time is, paradoxically, No Time. I hope that one day Real Money would mean No Money and we all would be millionaires.

Enterprises become real-time; Information is consumed and produced in real-time. Applications are built using ad-hoc mash-ups; standards are defined using ad-hoc micro-formats. We worship this Time dimension removal; we squeeze Time to the tiniest possible Space, and by that we increase the rate by which the Reality of the past is replaced by the timely and spatially reasonable Virtual present.

I think that this is already too much said for a visual blog post :-)

If you're interested, you can see the Symbols2.0-set here: Symbols2.0: How Did We Get Here?, and you can also watch it as a slideshow here: Symbols2.0 Slideshow. Finally, this is a work in progress; as Time goes by... more symbols will be added.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:13 PM  

Je viens de passer un moment formidable, plein. J'ai noté quelques réflexions, posé ma tête dans mon menton posé sur mon coude posé sur mon bureau et dans cette étrange posture, j'ai voyagé, d'images en mots, en questions. J'ai eu la spendide et fugace sensation de comprendre, avant de replonger dans l'abime d'une nouvelle porte qui s'ouvrait.
I don't know if it was first or second life, And or Or, mais c'était bien.
May be I shall write a following comment, in a while, "à froid"
La forêt s'éclaircit
Best regards — ßien à toi

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Friday, September 01, 2006

Barcelona2.0: Gaudi's Avatars, the Egg and the Dog

I don't remember where I read/heard about the artistic trend that seeks to eradicate the cemetery-like ambience inside museums, i.e. the 'Do not touch!' and the 'Do not speak loud' rules that put the visitor in a position of attendee rather than participant – to use Dave Winer's nice distinction between passive (web1.0) and active (web2.0).

Coming back from a visit to Barcelona I couldn't stop thinking about this absolutely unique city, built for participation. But even more unusual was the recurring theme, the leitmotif of this participation: an Identity-check journey into a realm where the border between objects and their representations doesn't exist.

Gaudi's creations – is this a house?

We can participate in all of Gaudi's creations – entering the guts of each house, cathedral or park that Gaudi designed. And in every such a place the same question arises:

Is the Casa Batllo a house, a work of art representing a house or rather a work of art representing nothing but itself?

Is La Sagrada Familia a cathedral – a dead-serious holy place, or is it a childs' adventures castle brought in straight from Disneyland?

Is Parc Güel a city park where children can climb on the Lizard statue and people can sit on Gaudi's benches or is it a museum and therefore children are supposed to respect the artistic monuments and benches are to be left untouched?

Under this perspective Gaudi's creations are more like avatars – they look like the real thing but they are not the real thing, and at the same time they question the realness of the real thing and let you experience this conflict by yourself from the insides of the representation. Being inside Casa Batllo is like being inside an avatar, watching the outside through your own eyes as well as through the house's eyes.

The Agbar Tower and Sexual Identity

Is it an egg – a feminine building, or a penis – a masculine one?

De Profundis? Luna Park in the Sky?

From the Tibidabo mountain Barcelona is seen in its entirety - a breathtaking view, not only because of its beauty but also because of the abyss, the De Profundis, the vertigo sensation issued from being so high and seeing the city so far beneath.

Ten feet from the adventures park there's an immensely high church/cathedral, which was built after the adventure park opened its gates in the early 20th century. I would argue that the church was built in this spot not just because Tibidabo is a high place, but mostly because there's an adventure park ten feet away. Most of us are mentally unprepared to visit an adventure park while passing through dozen Chapels, but those "crazy" Catalans – they are used to live in this duality.

Entering the adventures park – an official participation place - one can immediately see that this is not a "usual" park. Being built on the highest slopes of the Mountain that face the city most of the installations are extending their natural functionality as half of the time they go high above the immense abyss beneath. Double fright.

Is this a Luna Park on Earth or a Luna Park up in the skies?


My wife adores Joan Miro for his childish, innocent and delicate style, so we headed to the Fundació Joan Miró, where we had yet another Catalan surprise. In order to get to the Miro exhibition one must go through many exhibition halls dedicated to Carles Santos. Now, in case you've never heard of this artist (even Wikipedia is [shamefully] unaware of his existence) the combination of Miro and Santes is like the combination of a cathedral and a luna park or of a cathedral towers with fruits.

Towers of La Sagrada Familia

Miro's dog on the left is the "Tapestry of the Foundation" welcoming the visitors to the Miro exhibition. On the right Santos' Dog welcomes the visitors to the Foundation building.

Miro's Dog is a dog. Santos' is a woman or a long-haired man.

Santos is an artist of the "dark" side, meaning his work is darkishly beautiful with many moments of painful watching (cuts, distortions and other atrocities).

The contrast between Miro and Santos is sharp. Catalan Duality. Barcelona.

p.s. All Barcelona's pictures are user-generated - Flickred. Great shots by great photographers. thanks


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