The reader crosses the threshold of the book as an object into an interaction transferred with the surface of the writer’s language, then through language into living thought and imagination, into spaces and times and the escalation of thought. The book that drew you to it has completely disappeared as a subject.
It’s the second week of classes at Catholic College of Wyoming, and students across campus are tilting their heads toward these surviving artifacts from a different era. open one, which is not Come on. Next to an iPhone or a laptop screen, it looks strangely idling: a pile of paper, pages covered on both sides with printed text, not a picture in sight. Who would think, just by looking at it, that even one of them could contain worlds and change lives? We used to take it for granted.
Seeing so many books in students’ hands reminds me of the difference that philosopher Martin Heidegger saw between “thing” and “thing”. Heidegger, who found the deepest meanings of words in their roots, relied on the meaning of the word “assembly”. something, which in ancient Germanic languages meant a pragmatic association. We still use the word to mean gathering when someone says they are enjoying a little something Tomorrow night to celebrate a birthday. Heidegger wanted to recover this meaning and distinguish “thing” from “thing” in his relation to “subject” – the famous distinction between subject/object. The subject understands the goal thereSo to speakAnd the is what is seen; Subjectivity is internal (observation, judgment, feeling, reaction), while the subject is external and the other, the recipient of this subjectivity.
It is easier to see why Heidegger is preferred Things with an example. hammer Goal It is a tool you see on a garage wall or hung in your tool belt. But once you start using it, when it’s running, it’s no longer an object at all but a file something Meaning they are not “there” but increasingly aggregate in the act of knocking. The Goal There will always be someone else but you, but something It disappears in what you do with it. Certainly, this phenomenon is especially true for books. As an object, a book is something you see and capture; It has a certain appearance and heaviness. You may like the first version of the leather cover Huckleberry Vin or Federal papers Or notice how an old paperback that’s been read often crumbles. But a book is never a thing when it is really read.
The reader transcends the threshold of the book as an object (covers, maps, printed lines, margins) to an interaction transferred with the surface of the writer’s language, and then through language into living thought and imagination, into spaces and times and the rise of thought. The book that drew you to it is completely gone as a subject – though, again, there’s a great deal of traversal back and forth between the thing (the reader-writer’s magic unit) and the physical thing underlined, marginal notations, and paging back and forth to note repetition or make connections.
It may be counterintuitive that books change with the reader, but they are true, nonetheless. In the The Iliad, which I’m reading for the umpteenth time with a student this year, I recently came to the already underlined description of Athena shrugging off an arrow pointed at Menelaus as a mother brushes a fly off her sleeping child’s face – but now I think about the little grandchildren I saw last weekend. Not only does the much-highlighted Lattimore translation page disappear, but thousands of years between me as a reader and Homer’s unexpectedly intimate note to a mother of 3,000 years ago. I’ve never been shocked in the same way.
Technology masters want more and more straightforward interfaces, subtly guided by algorithms and commodity, and the effort reminds me of Shakespeare’s line: “The expense of the soul is in a waste of shame.” We are People of the Book (although we are not the writers alone), and Wyoming Catholic College, though fully committed to the true experience, finds its spiritual center in good reading and the real engagement it generates in lively conversation. Emily Dickinson said she was right: “There is no frigate like the book / To Take Us Far Land.” were books Things For her in the best sense of the word, an economical path to the most wonderful truths:
This may take the poorest transit
Without harassment toll –
How frugal is a cart
that bears the soul of man –
Republished with kind permission from Catholic College of Wyoming Weekly Bulletin.
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