Posts Tagged ‘books’

Chauvet Horses, 30,000 years old

An individual human life can range from moments to a century.  Yet even a century is a heartbeat when the entire span of human history is imagined.  I am reading a book on the Siege of Malta and the Battle of Lepanto, two events that spanned decades, but in hindsight can be analyzed and discussed in an evening.  It made me think about the complexity of existence and how limited a single lifetime can be, even one that is long and filled with adventure.  It still can represent only a fraction of what is possible, or what has been.

If we imagine that every human life is a book, and that each book is kept in a library, then the magnitude of human experience can be visualized.  This library is too big to explore.  Even condensed into a single volume titled “The History of Civilization” would be too limited.  An individual could not read all those books in his or her lifetime.  In order to get a full understanding of what it means to be human, there must be Art.

Art is a form of communication that can condense human experience into a flash of comprehension and even “experience”.  This is the big “Art” that includes music and dance and architecture and all forms of human expression.  Without these elements of culture, each human life would just be a brief replay of eating and sleeping.

When you look at art (or listen) your brain is encouraged to Grok Fully a message from one mind to another.  Time becomes meaningless.  The images of the horses in the Chauvet cave speak to us now.  The spoken language of the artist is as dead as he is, yet this language of beauty and truth will never disapear.  30,000 years is nothing.  And everything.  It is now.  You can see it.  Now.

Concepts can be communicated as well.  Here is something remarkable that needs no words in any language to communicate in mere moments the entire history of human war:

Picasso 1937 Guernica

This is not just one war, but all wars.

And this is not just one man, but the idea of man:

Michaelangelo's David

And woman

Da Vinci's Mona Lisa

And music.  Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is an audible representation of being human.  In one short hour you can be infused with every human emotion there is.  You want to know what sadness sounds like?  Joy? Love?  Tenderness? Hatred and anger? For $1.29 you can listen to centuries of collected human emotion on your portable listening device.  What does Hope look like?  Fear?  Love? Museums are filled with sculpture that will show you.  Here is something we all can understand:

Rodin "The Kiss"

And this is a tomb.  We can understand in one eyeblink the brief breath of one woman’s life and the eternity of this monument and see the love of a man for his wife:

And not to forget film and theatre and literature too.  Can’t forget fiction!  Exploring what being fully human means has been a common theme since The Metamorphoses of Apuleius.

Why are we here?  What does it all mean? We want to know.  We have to know.

A life without Art is a life lived alone.


Bladerunner. "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?"

Art is forever.  Life is brief.


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Magic Books

Magic all by themselves

The idea of a magic book is well-established in our culture.  It starts way, way back with Judaism and the reliqueries for the Torah…maybe even the Ark of the Covenant which should have housed the tablets of the Ten Comandments written by the ultimate author:  The Ultimate Magic Book.  Before that there were books of magic in Egypt and Babylonia.  We can keep looking in the past, and as long as there was a written language, there was a magic book.

I do want to blur the lines between a holy book and a magic book.  The words have different connotations, but the meaning is the same.  Somehow the book will transcend the ordinary world of men and women and by its words or its influence,  change the ordinary to extraordinary.

Some may suggest that books in general have a magical quality and I certainly will not deny that.  The act of reading is magical in itself.  If you try to deconstruct the process of reading you will find just how magical that is.  Everyone who has ever read a good book will remember the times when the reading was so effortless that one became “lost” in the story.  Where did the story play out?  In your brain, of course.  Surging waves. frigid winds, burning sands…they were all far away from the comfy chair.  Yet you felt you were there, and many characters in literature have become more real to subsequent generations than “real” people we know.  Robinson Crusoe, d’Artagnan and Elizabeth Bennet come to mind.

This is magic.

Van Gogh knew of this magic.  He had few friends growing up.  His disability made him different, and people throughout his life avoided him.  He suffered an acute loneliness that few of us can imagine.  He was a great reader.

To acquire the habit of reading is to construct for yourself a refuge from almost all the miseries of life.  ~W. Somerset Maugham


He painted this:

THE BIBLE and Vincent's novel

If I tell you that is his father’s bible, and Vincent’s novel, you get the picture.  I see that the candles have gone out.

Books are a uniquely portable magic.  ~Stephen King

I often derive a peculiar satisfaction in conversing with the ancient and modern dead, – who yet live and speak excellently in their works.  My neighbors think me often alone, – and yet at such times I am in company with more than five hundred mutes – each of whom, at my pleasure, communicates his ideas to me by dumb signs – quite as intelligently as any person living can do by uttering of words.  ~Laurence Sterne

If you think about it. the act of reading a book puts one in contact with the thoughts and ideas of other human beings who may thousand miles away or a thousand years ago.  What else in our daily life can do such a thing?

Books don’t have to come from Snape’s library to be magic.


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Libraries are more important than we think.

I liked saying that because it was sort of a pun.

Until the advent of the internets and LOLcats, people could only know what other people knew through listening to a lecture, being part of a lively conversation, or reading a book, a newspaper, or a magazine.

Young people have no memory of those times.    When I see an image like this:

Canada's Parliament Library

I remember that feeling of wishing I could read every book.  I wanted to know everything.  Now I realize even given more than one lifetime, I could not read every book.  Gah.  I remember that scene in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast  when he “gives” her his library.  I was like, “I’m done.  Movie is over.  Time to start on the left and go around…wait…is there a card catalogue?”

Look at this one from Brazil:

Oh no! they are all in Portuguese!

I think of all the time and money that went into building libraries like these.  Do you think, in the future, that humans will be building sacred monuments like these libraries to house and protect video games?  iPods?  A single Nook? (don’t forget the power source).

Nowadays your information will disappear and never come back when the battery dies or the power goes out.

In the old days it was lack of literacy or the death of a language that made the pages go dark. Ancient Egyptian history, poetry and science were lost in hieroglyphs for centuries, and would have been forever, if the Rosetta stone had not been uncovered.  I do think about an entire library like the one above, written in a language I cannot read.  *shivers*  It is beautiful, but silent.

This looks like chickens walked across some mud..,

In a straight line, mind you, but imagine trying to read what the chickens wrote.

Everything we are as human beings since we first started thinking and talking must be preserved for the next generation, or else every generation will start over again from scratch.  Without accumulated knowledge there could never have been the explosion in technology we enjoy today.   Future discoveries are built upon today’s knowledge.

First we read books on clay tablets, then papyrus. vellum, paper and now light.

We used to worry about fire and water, the great enemies of books (and ipods) and war (the greatest enemy of the book).

(We still worry about war.  Here is a story about the library at Sarajevo.)

(And the Library of Alexandria)

What happens when there is no electricity?  We used to just need the sun and a book to discover what was in the minds of the other humans who came before us.

The sun will be around for another few billion years.  Will the book? Will we?

“These are not books, lumps of lifeless paper, but minds alive on the shelves”   –Gilbert Highet

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