— Thesis abstract, v.0 —
The book is one of the oldest artifacts of culture. The codex form that we still recognize and use today has existed for 2 millennia. It is itself a signifier of culture and society. At this very point in time, when the book is purported to be on its last legs, it is crucial that we reexamine its place in our lives.
Books are more than just vessels for the contents they carry. They are—by the very fact of their physical presence—touchstones, totems, and promises. They are the embodiment of knowledge, a physical form suggesting authority and completeness. A book is a frame—a stack of pages, printed and gathered, bound between covers—which presents itself as the authority on a subject at a particular time. A book is quiet, but full of unlimited potential. A book is infinite—simultaneously demarcated by its physical dimensions and format, but also opening to an almost impossible number of pages within, each a potential portal to another thought, another world.
With the massive book-scanning projects of Google and the Internet Archive, our concept and experience of the library has changed. The dominance of Amazon has forever altered the system of distribution, first of physical books and now digital texts. The rapid acceptance of the iphone, ipad, and dedicated ebook readers like the Kindle has changed the experience of reading, the contexts in which we read, and the expectations and demands we make the books. The ephemeralizing of the book challenges its tradition place as a fetishized object for collection. What happens in the shift away from the physical artifact? What is lost—and what is gained—in the shift to digital forms? Bookstores and libraries are closing, yet the availability of print-on-demand services makes everyone a potential bookmaker. So, what is a book, right now? And where do we go from here?
This thesis seeks to insinuate itself into the current discussion about books: their presence, their present, and their future. Through experiments in book form, and investigations into the meanings and values we place on books both physical and ephemeral, I playfully engage in this vital dialogue.