Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Edifice of Letters

Is it possible to conceive of Text holistically? By 'Text' I mean the textual artefact, the thing requiring interpretation. If we can conceive of a house as a whole entity, despite its many components and multiple rooms, is it not reasonable to think of a textual artefact as a single edifice of interpretability: an edifice of letters/symbols/readings? Through various optical illusions, Matej Krén has created a building made out of books (http://freshbump.com/matej-kr-n-s-building-of-books/); extending that sculpture into a metaphor to envisage a single edifice constructed from a Text's component parts might allow us to investigate the full potential of individual textness. A case in point would be the well-known St Alban's Psalter, which is digitally available here (http://www.abdn.ac.uk/~lib399/), but only in a dismembered, folio-by-folio, click-by click viewing. This presentation is much better than no images, of course, but it encourages the breaking apart of the volume into its constituent parts--either the page-at-a-time technique (and no physical book ever functioned a page at a time) or through the verbal text or through the illustrative text (which in the case of this Psalter are often inseparable). The book becomes the patchy reconstitution of its parts and not the sum of its parts: its materiality, its textual history, its paradigmatic and syntagmatic relationships, its context of production, and so forth. If a book were a building, a unified whole understood as such, one would enter and walk through it, seeing all elements as part of the singular textual object replete with its own history and intertextuality, made more complex by the intellectual information of its particular inhabitant. Could such a thing ever work? If it could, we would have a new Text: the whole Text, and, I might argue, the only genuinely interpretful Text.

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