Friday, December 24, 2010

The Incarnation and Bookstores

Normally on Christmas Eve I post the first lines from the Gospel of John about the word becoming flesh and dwelling amongst us. The fact is that the one thing about Christianity- the Roman Catholic kind in my case- that makes it different from other great religions is that we believe that God lived as a person and died for all of us. That God understands intimately what it means to be human and that His incarnation sancifies life and the world. The idea of Incarnation or taking the flesh is essential not only to our faith as Christians but it also means something else all people are equal in the eyes of God and should be so in the eyes of people.
The idea of becoming flesh, in fact becoming real is essential as we venture more and more into a virtual world. Everything seems to be digitized and everything is being reduced to code and the next victim of this could be the bookstore.
As the owner of over 5000 books and a collector of the same the idea that I will never again get to spend a Saturday afternoon trolling the front table at Seminary Co-op in Chicago or looking through the drawers of Chapbooks at Woodland Pattern in Milwaukee or working through the stacks at Powells in Portland, Oregon is a fate worse than say the destruction of Parma, Italy with its great Hams and Cheeses. It is just a sad thing.
I am not a Luddite. I am writing a blog post right now. I love the internet and my iPod but the idea that my books as friends would not be on shelves, full of memories loved and used as they were meant to be is something that I cannot believe that bibliophiles will allow to happen. Right now I am looking at my shelves.
There is a first edition of Robert Duncan's poetry that I bought with my food money at Murphy Brookfield Books in Iowa City. A 1938 section of the Cantos of Ezra Pound that I bought in New York. In the American Tree by Ron Silliman, the Anthology that made me want to write poetry. The Memoir of Pablo Neruda... Clayton Eshelman's wonderful translations of Vallejo that made me want to be a translator and of course Thomas Merton's Seven Storey Mountain which made me remain an angry but obedient Roman Catholic.
How would I consume all of these on my iPad again and again??
In the end for me Bookstores and Books are like the Incarnation. Books with us. Not something apart or distant but a created thing in my hands that has a history and a future. We can embrace technology but must everything be reduced to code?
Merry Christmas, God With Us, Preserve our Books and let us Continue to Have our Friends on our Shelves.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Future of Poetry without Serendipity

One of the first thinkers to use the Codex which is the immediate ancestor of the book was the Christian philosopher Origen. He translated the Old Testament and put it in columns so that your could read the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek across the page. It was a great triumph for which he was a Doctor of the Church until someone in the early Middle Ages declared him a heretic. but that said the book has been a part of our lives for over 1800 years.
Now we face a challenge. You cannot deny that the e book and the iPad and its kin are a great thing but this great thing might have a very destructive impact. The book is a way for the poet or writer to control what he/she has written. The author decides what goes in and what says out and this means that it is a work of art not a newspaper article.
The problem with the e book and its kin is that the author, the artist, loses control over her own work. Another problem is the death of Serendipity. If you want to make an analogy when I was younger it was possible to go to record store (CD's also) and browse and get suggestions from an actual person on a new band or music group.
Serendipity is also essential for books and poets.
Imagine a world where all poetry is electronic. Where in order to find poetry or novels for that manner that are only generated by electronic media. Imagine a time when the bookstore and the physical book no longer exist? This means for us that the chance finding of a new author or new type of reading will also no longer exist. What does this mean for the future of literature?
I would argue that the book as object as a work of art is too important to not be discussed? Someone out there tell me what is the solution? Or are we all okay with this change?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Is Everything For Sale? Standing with Liu Xiao Bo

Carl von Ossietzky won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1936. He was also not allowed to recieve it in person. von Ossietzky was not allowed to recieve the prize by a new and dynamic political system that also viewed "national sovereignty" as more important than the rights of the individual. He died in a Nazi labor camp of a heart attack after being abused for being a pacifist.

The difference between what happened in 1936 and what happened in 2010 with Chinese poet Liu Xiao Bo is that Germany was never as powerful as China is today or will be in the future.

I have been to China many times and there is not a more creative or harder working people but like the German people who are also creative and hard working they are victims of a system that preaches National Renewal while ignoring human rights. People are regularly imprisoned for going to Mass, or writing poetry or asking for the most basic human rights. The Chinese have unfettered Capitalism with none of the human rights that should come with that system.

The problem with what happened to both von Ossietzky and Liu is that out of fear the free peoples of world's response has been muted and quiet because of fear of the oppressing government's financial power. Yes, I know that President Obama said that he supported Liu and I know that President Roosevelt's administration decried the death of von Ossietzky's death in a Nazi labor camp in 1936 but that was not enough then or now.

I am writing this blog post on a computer made in China. My clothes are made in China. My iPod is made in China and the money in my bank account was loaned to the US government by China. Unlike the 1930's it is impossible to boycott China or Chinese things as it was with German things but the principal is the same. The Declaration of Independence, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen and the UN Charter should not be sold out because the Chinese might be offended. Or they might foreclose on America. It is often said that China is the future. Does the future include being put in a Labor Camp for writing poetry, working as a journalist and asking for China to become a multi party democracy?

That is why Mr Liu is in a Labor Camp.

It is time that we in the Free world, the inheritors of the legacy of Washington, Jefferson, Voltaire, Mazzini, Bolivar, King, Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi ask ourselves are our cheap iPods worth supporting a regime that regularly imprisons people for asking for basic human rights?

I realize that by saying this I might offend the Chinese. But, I choose to stand with Mr Liu. And ask when will this end and when will offense stop being used to justify oppression?

Or is everything for sale?