Tuesday, December 08, 2009

We intrepid bookmen . . .

The Book
(Image from Alfons Schweiggert)

At breakfast the other day, my erudite wife -- who happens also to be my only wife -- mentioned having read of a book by the German writer Alfons Schweiggert, titled Das Buch, in which a man literally (or literarily?) becomes a book and suffers the little indignities that we inflict upon our books . . . underlining sentences of, scribbling marginal notes within, dog-earing pages to, that sort of thing, I suppose, for my wife did not specify.

Later that very day, after my regular exercise, as I was enjoying my hard-earned beer and reading more from Holbrook Jackson's The Anatomy of Bibliomania, I came upon Section V in Part XV, titled "Men who become Books: Biblioanthropus Defined," which contains -- among other thingss of similar ilk -- the following Kafkaesque thoughts on a strange form of metamorphosis:
[A] biblio-animism may be at work making books men, men books; and if, on the other hand, as Milton believed, the writer of a poem must himself be a true poem, or as Victor Hugo held, the book is its writer, I perceive no reason to suppose that a bookman may not himself become a book, seeing that we become what we absorb, for, Samuel Butler says, matter which has once been assimilated by any identity or personality, becomes for all practical purposes part of the assimilating personality. (Jackson, Anatomy of Bibliomania, 328-329)
Quite a coincidence, I'd say, and I'm ready to read this as a sign -- a book, after all, brought my wife and me together -- but a sign of what, exactly? That we are what we read? More so than previously anticipated? Some new, transformative theory to worry about . . .

But what of Schweiggert's bookman? The 'novel' doesn't appear to have been translated into English -- maybe it first needs to obtain citizenship, or at least a "Green Card"? -- but here's Schweiggert's homepage, with useful information if you read German. Note that Schweiggert has written a lot on Franz Kafka, which might or might not have implications for the story of a metamorphosis into some kind of giant book. The literary critic and journalist Hannes S. Macher describes Das Buch as "zwischen Kafka und Krimi," i.e., "between Kafka and detective story."

But I can't find many details on the story itself at Schweiggert's site, nor even an excerpt to whet my appetite for reading it. Has anyone read Das Buch? Perhaps few return once they've opened the book and entered in?
Während des Lesens glaubt man, in diesem Buch gänzlich aufzugehen, identifiziert sich zunehmend mit 'Bibli' und erkennt sich selbst als Gefangener dieses Werkes. (Literatur in Bayern)

In reading this book, one imagines oneself to be entering into it completely, identifying oneself with "Bibli," and recognizing oneself even as its prisoner. (my loose translation)
"Bibli" is the main character's name, possibly a nickname. Amazon's German site provides more information, revealing that Bibli finds a mysterious book in a flea market, sells all his other books, and devotes himself to this book alone, so much so that he becomes the book itself and thereby passes into the hands of others.

Sounds like an intriguing, but perhaps dangerously transformational reading . . .

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At 11:39 AM, Blogger Sa-Rah said...

Tuning into a book, huh?
....Cooooool...or mabye not so cool for Mr.Bibli.

I wonder about how he felt when he got used by many people and when through all trials.(underlining sentences, scribbling notes,dog-earing pages..etc)

I wish I could read the book too, but I can't read German and I also need to grow up a bit more to understand the wrting.

I guess I'll jus be satisfied by your description of the book "The Book" and wait.


At 12:25 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

German will have to wait, Sa-Rah, as we continue to ensure that you make progress in English:

. . . Mr. Bibli . . .

. . . but I can't read German, and I also need . . .

. . . writing . . .

. . . just . . .

Work on those for now -- and learn to proofread carefully before clicking on "Publish Your Comment."

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:43 PM, Anonymous Phil said...

.....the little indignities that we inflict upon our books . . . underlining sentences of, scribbling marginal notes within, dog-earing pages to, that sort of thing.....

This will all be redundant once the printed book is supplanted by the Electronic Reader.

The printed book is so........last century.

At 5:32 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Phil, I'm just a last-century-sort of man . . . but I agree in part, for my link to Schweiggert has been entirely electronic.

But what indignities will we inflict upon e-books?

Jeffery Hodges

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