books.google.com: I end up there by accident. I did a search on the Internet. For books on books.
The first thing that greets me is a search box. The text I type is processed through millions of published books. Older books that have been digitized. Books that have been scanned and added to a database to be searchable.
The page of the book is turned to the camera. Gets scanned. It happens fast. Another page is scanned. Paper and ink become zeroes and ones. The machine turns the page. A new page. When the page has been scanned the computer collects the pages to a file. Digital formats. A dot and a letter combination. .pdf .txt .xml.
Enemies of Books. Written by William Blades, published in 1881. A book on the decay of books. The enemies of physical books – fire, water, gas, the bookworm, bigotry, etc . I print out the book. White pages and black marks. No identity. The software scans stains and scratches as letters. Physical traces are digitized.
I find the original on the Internet. A second hand bookshop in London has a copy. I order the book. An impersonal form and payment directions. Credit card. The book is expensive, but in unusually good condition. A few weeks later I receive a package smelling of paper and incense.
The book is yellowed and the edges are dark brown with dirt. The paper has been bleached by time and the sun. The cover is worn. A thin sheet of paper protects the book. Looks like greaseproof paper. A simple binding.
The third edition. The spine is frayed, the pages are loose and the thread holding them together is visible. Each page has unique stains and creases. The edges are uneven, uncut.
A signature on the cover page. The owner of the book. Inside the book are some newspaper clippings, an obituary notice over Dr. Sarolea. The book belonged to him. Another clipping tells the story of his book collection, consisting of 300 000 volumes, weighing 100 ton. It is described as one of the wonders of the world. Dr. Sarolea is dead but is book collection is alive. A note about the good condition of the book on the cover page. Added by the bookshop. A rubbed out price. Another signature. Unknown. The book ends with date notation, probably jotted down by Dr. Sarolea. Possibly the date when he finished the book.
I read the book. It is still not mine. The stains and traces are foreign. I can feel the presence of the former owners. People I don’t know. Every time I pick it up it becomes more mine. The smell of my apartment is mixed with the incense and my invisible fingerprints are now added to the older marks.
I read the digitized book. The digital file begins with information on how the book has been scanned by Google. The date of the scanning and information on Google books .
I recreate the book. I let a 3D-printer print out the tool. I want to test if it works. It does.
At night while I sleep the file is processed by the printer, typing out layers of plastic. The digital file is based on tools that have been used for hundreds of years. Combining and modifying the old techniques I create the necessary tools. The components are mounted on a piece of board . I print out and bind the book. I upload the files to the Internet.
Preface from Evolution
Evolution = the action of reading
You, as a reader, are put in motion just as evolutio indicates and to some extent you are – metaphorically as well as physically – encouraged to move and act with and within the total manifestations of the same piece. Also, Heldén’s works are often metapoetical and media historical reflections on the conditions for writing poetry.
No one moves through the woods quickly, or in a straight line; something always happens here. But let us also remember – and this point is not unrelated – that for ancient poets, the woods (silva in Latin, hulē in Greek) also figured the very stuff of literary production, the timber of which poems were made, including everything from subject ‘matter’ to literary models to rough notes to the waxed wooden tablets on which most poets composed.[iii]
woven grassrising treestreehouse a rainweedsproutplantmoss luminousoak treenight blooming
In our Swedish literary history we find a similar example. And I am here referring to the Swedish author Kerstin Ekman. In 1991 she programmed the computer game Space Journey – Rymdresa. She wrote the code, her husband made the sound, and Veine Johansson the the graphics. Rymdresa is a “literary computer program” and Ekman wants to teach and encourage young people to read literature by playing the game. To be able to move forward in the game and enter different worlds – you not only have to find answers in dictionaries and encyclopaedias. You also have to have read Stanislav Lems novel the Invincible from 1972. You are forced to move between the printed books and the computer game.
The forest is one of the fundamental principles in Ekman’s writing – not only in her essayistic writings – such as Herrarna i skogen but also in her novels – as is her continuous moving across different media – such as film, computer games, hypertext, novels, essays and opera librettos, putting them in tangible dialogue and reflecting upon their different qualities, their different materialities.
In 1978 Ekman said that she had been thinking about writing a book without words and instead she wanted to tell her story in the forest by a bonfire and then let the listeners pass it on. Ekman’s and Heldéns works remind us of the beginnings of the evolution of the poetic medium – from the oral, to stone via paper to the digital – and their oeuvre put focus on the relation between screen / paper and materiality / immateriality. In the light of their movements over different materialities it is possible to the rethink such a concept as paper for example. Katherine Hayles famously wrote that print is flat and code is deep. Perhaps we may say yes at first but if we look, touch and feel it closely enough we sense the fibers and pores “that give every page both the texture and the depth into which the ink must sink without penetrating.” [iv] In Heldén’s and Ekman’s work – neither the book page nor the screen – are flat. Here paper as well as screens matter, claim a space and a particular presence. It forces us to reconsider our habituated view of paper through the screen and our habituated view of the screen through the paper. Making us realise that the page is perhaps not always what we think it is.
[i] William A. Johnson, ”Bookrolls as Media”, Comparative Textual Media. Transforming the Humanities in the Postprint Era, eds. N. Katherine Hayles & Jessica Pressman (Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 2013), p. 101–124, quote p. 114.
[ii] Johnson (2013), p. 108.
[iii] Shane Butler, The Matter of the Page. Essays in Search of Ancient and Medieval Authors (Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 2011), p. 17–18.
[iv] Butler (2011), p. 75.