Iconic books are texts revered as objects of power rather than just as words of instruction, information, or insight. In religious and secular rituals around the globe, people carry, show, wave, touch and kiss books and other texts, as well as read them. This blog chronicles such events and activities. (For more about iconic books, see the links to the Iconic Books Project at left.)

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Summer + books + libraries = sensual sacred space

Ben Ratliff writes music critique for the New York TimesA piece this week has him roaming ("grazing") the stacks at Columbia, offering a paean to the sensuality of books. He tells of the stacks being "in a different sensory category," and through their arrangement they take on a spatial quality of separateness, abandon, becoming sacred.

What I like is that he contrasts his experience with his usual work on a networked computer, which creates its own sensory experience: "a hot thing blowing exhaust." McLuhan (always on whatever playlist operating in the back of my head) would tell of the various "sensoria" that create the worlds we live in, and one vital way to think through shifts in media is to see the sensory engagements that humans have with their objects of communication. (I wrote a bit about this myself recently.)

Ratliff's experience with books is a sensual one through and through, consciously engaging information through sight and smell:

You look at a row of spines, imprinted with butch, ultra-legible white or black type; your eye takes in more at any time than can be contained on a computer screen. You hold the books in your hand and feel the weight and size; the typography and the paper talk to you about time. A lot of libraries smell nice, but the smell of the Butler stacks is a song of organic matter, changing as temperatures do through the reaches of a pond.

As the temperature in Central New York reaches 90 today, you'll know where to find me.

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