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July 3, 2007

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This Working Library

Jack Stauffacher, designer and printer, on his books:

“Without this working library,” notes Stauffacher, “I would have no compass, no map, to guide me through the density of our human condition.”

Hmm. Maybe that’s what an alethiometer really looks like?

Posted July 3, 2007 at 11:23 | Comments (18) | Permasnark
File under: Books, Writing & Such, Briefly Noted


Uhhhh, this is what an alethiometer really looks like... obviously.

Posted by: Laura on July 5, 2007 at 08:11 AM

I'm reading The Black Swan right now (much better than I thought it would be, btw), and he has a chapter that talks about the Umberto Eco's 30,000-volume library. The point Eco made is that people who visit always ask the same question: "have you read all these books?" He has joke answers, but it launches him into the idea that a library needs to consist of books you haven't read. Unless there's the strong desire to learn more, you don't really have a use for a library.

(I'm fascinated by this idea because I lost my library in a fire 10 years ago. I still tell people it made me dumber.)

I haven't considered it from a philosophical side much, but practically speaking my home library is mostly books I have read and intend to refer to or revisit. For new learning, I rely on the real library, i.e. the library of the University of California.

Bringing up Primo Levi in the first paragraph, this post reminded me of The Search for Roots, Levi's anthology of excerpts from some of the works he found most influential and meaningful in his own life. Resonates with the overall theme of the post as well.

I like this idea. Wish there were more of these. Most common seems to be the poetry anthology, probably since poems can be very short and encapsulate a lot. But there are other opportunities. Writers at the Movies I also enjoyed (what I was able to read of it before returning it). This works well because movies are popular and easy to digest, but fun to dissect.

Levi's book is a good 20th-century example of a commonplace book, which were especially popular in the early modern period. I Read That Somewhere is a good 21st-century counterpart.

How did I know Tim was going to post a follow-up? Although I expected more about the movies book...

Just to plug these a little more, here's the contents of the movies book. Salmon Rushdie's essay on The Wizard of Oz is a short version of his longer monograph. The essay on Night of the Hunter is great, and generated my nascent theory that Hunter influenced Blue Velvet.

One thing worth noting on the Levi book is that it includes some English translations of excerpts from 20th century Italian lit that is otherwise untranslated. Horcynus Orca was particularly interesting and I am waiting for a full English version...

Laura -- Ah hahahaha. So correct.

Peter & Tim -- Yes, also love that idea. A similar thing -- a little sketchier, not all direct quotes & citations -- is Dag Hammarskjold's 'Markings' -- very much a record of one man's thoughts and inspirations. Often very private.

And in general, I think MOST good blogs are like modern commonplaces. Also not totally unlike hypnomnemeta. I actually quite like thinking of them in those terms -- makes the whole practice seem rooted & natural, instead of new & weird.

In 500 years they'll be like "oh yeah, these holographic DNA info-spirals are just like modern blogs."

Robin, I think by mentioning Dag Hammarskjold's "Markings" you have your finger on the major difference between commonplaces and blogs. Blogs are much more thoroughly and essentially social than commonplaces ever were. Sometimes commonplace books were published, but then they were really more somewhere between anthologies and dictionaries of quotations. The real purpose of a commonplace book was for your own edification and as an aid to writing and speechmaking.

Montaigne's Essais, in addition to being a model for almost every other kind of personal nonfiction, also sometimes reads like the best blog you've ever read. Even the longer pieces split into little blog-entry chunklets.

I've decided that the comparison I prefer for the Levi anthology is that it a literary mix tape.

A commonplace book, as I am learning about it, sounds like it could have hundreds or thousands of random snippets from all over. Levi's anthology is a selection of between 10 and 20 sizeable but digestable excerpts from longer works. The selection is fairly carefully thought out according to certain themes, the order is meaningful, and the particular excerpts are meant to represent the source works while also standing alone well. Everything about it screams mix tape, except that it's a book.

I'm pretty sure I brought it up on SM already, but does anyone want to talk about my idea for the future of mix DVDs?

And I agree, a blog is more like a modern commonplace, only more social.

Another good, bloggy anthology: Andre Breton's Anthology of Black Humor.

I love mix CDs, and the concept of mix DVDs is new to me...

Maybe the future is web-based collaborative mix multimedia?

Peter: I want to talk about mix DVDs fo sho. Bring it.

Ah, Snarkmarket collab #1... man, I shoulda picked a better soundtrack for that. We should do it again though.

Okay, well the mix DVD is not so incredibly radical; it was just my wish, as kind of a film nut, that as it became easier to rip and burn DVDs it would be possible to create a mix DVD of either short films, or excerpted scenes from favorite films, perhaps united by a theme or a person or a place or a color, or whatever.

Mix DVD has proven trickier than mix CD though. The creative side is more complicated, certainly, but the technical side also tends to be a pain. I tried to make a very low-concept mix DVD (just good nature doc clips) and I couldn't get the thing to burn. A mix "DVD" that will run on VLC seems to be easier to execute than one that will run on a standard DVD player.

Just straight clips is now seeming a bit limited since the "mix your own music video" scene has taken off on YouTube. So maybe ultimately, like you say, the mix DVD will be leapfrogged over as we move straight into collaborative mix multimedia.

Anyway, some random thoughts: the "funny/weird sex scenes" mix DVD. Includes Delicatessen, Tampopo, I Married a Strange Person... what else? I know I had more than that in the back of my mind.

Also, the concept of the DVD magazine is pretty awesome, the only example I know being, of course, McSweeney's Wholphin.

Well, you could have montages of car chases, fights, the best scenes from individual actors, directors, or ensembles, all of your favorite "I just blew you away lines" (a la "Yippee-Kay-Ay, Motherfucker"). Or songs, dance sequences, kisses (a la Cinema Paradiso). A short handbook on the history of animation, or the rock documentary. The possibilities are endless.

One thing about movies is that we're used to seeing very quick clips edited together -- at award shows, TV specials, etc. And it's this that's actually sorta hard to pull off technically. It would be really interesting to try to stick with the approximate limitations of DVDs and mix CDs, and piece together about an hour and half or so or so of complete 5-8 minute scenes. You might just have to rip the clip you want to mp4 (or your favorite compression format) and then piece together a DVD.

Yeah, I actually have some clips hanging around on my desktop at home (AKA the file storage server), but it's really a lot of work to piece that stuff together. Way more than to make a CD.

Maybe I will try harder to make this happen. I love the idea. I think it's fun to see scenes from familiar movies put in new context. I'm the kind of person who comes home from a night out and shuffles around clips of old favorites for a half hour before calling it a night. It's also fun to throw some quirky stuff in there to titillate people and make them say "I wonder what the rest of the movie is like!".

And there are just some scenes that really stand alone and deserve to be watched as self-contained pieces of art themselves. My low-key mix DVD definitely ends with the final scene of Late Spring. I love that scene.

Now that I think about it, Atomic Cafe is a kind of mix DVD with a common theme and very well put together.

Another fun one, maybe particularly for a classical music person, would be to compile all the different scenes that used the same music accompaniment (intra- or extra-diegetic ;b)

I actually have done something very much like a mix DVD for a class I taught on film, but I mostly used a sequence of YouTube clips. I took scenes from Casablanca, Citizen Kane, Battleship Potemkin, Man With A Movie Camera, 8 1/2, and Rashomon, plus a handful of other films I can't recall. I sort of half-screamed over them to point out cuts, camera moves, lighting tricks, changes in focus, etc., to try to give them some idea of how to visually read a film. If I had thought of it more than a few hours before class, an actual DVD would have been a great idea. :-)

Those are all really good video mixtape ideas, Tim and Peter!

Do you think a mix DVD is in fact the optimum medium, b/c of the better-quality playback, sound, etc.? Might be fun to have a physical artifact to copy & pass around again, too.

But how does it really stack up vs. say, a playlist of videos posted online (at medium-ish quality)? You def. lose something in terms of access & virality.

If I had to make one right now it'd be keyed to politics -- scenes from All the President's Men, The Candidate, State of the Union (the old one!), Star Wars, etc.

Also, I'm not sure if I'm thinking about it the right way: Are you thinking of literally a mixtape, with very discrete, isolated clips, or more of a montage, a la what they do at the Oscars, per Tim?

Well, I think given the success of the YouTube music video remixes, montage is clearly a popular format. But I was thinking more discrete clips, essentially as much like a standard, old school music mix tape as possible. Also in the old school spirit, I like the idea of being able to pass around a physical disc, although definitely there are online advantages. An additional disadvantage of online is the inherent petty illegality of certain kinds of mix DVDs.

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