Acoustic Books At The Beginning And End Of The World
by Karl Young

Part 4: The End and the Beginning

. . .

As far as I know, no one before me made books to use as musical instruments. I'm saying this in part because I suspect that by doing so something will come to my attention that proves the statement wrong. I'm also saying it because even if other people have made musical books, in my own terms making these books has been pure invention, something that came to me on the most basic existential level as creation ex nihilo. One of my first acoustic books began with quiet, delicate poems that lead by their own logic through visions of peace and serenity, exploring many different types of music along the way. The second grew through a changing understanding of the nature of celebration of life and spirit in the world. The last one mentioned here responds to ultimate evil, which I have had to live with, avoid, and confront throughout my life. During World War II, my father was an army chaplain and my mother an army nurse anesthetist. The war threw them together on a train from Munich to Rome after they had witnessed what seemed the most harrowing extremes of depravity and perversion, particularly working, at different points on the line, with the survivors of the concentration camp at Dachau. Between the time they met and the time I was born, destruction proved it had the potential to spread further, that it could put the means of destroying races and even humanity in the hands of any lunatic generals backed by enough wealth to produce nuclear bombs. As with virtually any anti-nuclear activity or work of art, this book is a totally adamant affirmation of life, affirmation made without flinching in the face of the most vicious and stupid perversion humanity has created, and such affirmation must in some sense factor in the base of any form of joy in this period of history.

The history of books, poetry, and all arts has followed strange paths, as has human evolution. In the later moments of that human evolution, books have played an integral part in the process of changing us and the world. Visual poets speculate on the origins of their art, which is as much as to say the origin of book art. My sense of this is that the first texts our prehuman ancestors learned to read were the constelations of the night sky and the tracks of birds and animals. Perhaps a memory or an intuition of this comes through in the Chinese story that writing originated in the conjunction of bird tracks and the light of a star. The main contenders for the first books fashioned by human hands seem to be petroglyphs, scarification, and tattoos - and these, too, could have prehuman origins. Weaving and other textile making created early forms of writing. Whatever the case, changes and inventions have worked through the essence of the books that have evolved along with us. Many forms persist - people still read bird and animal tracks and watch the cycle of constellations and planets as they move through the sky. Books contextualize our lives, and presumably they will continue to evolve along with us, even though they will morph into forms we cannot now imagine. The process is part of what makes us human. And when the human world ends, people will probably still be touching the origins of books, no matter how they have changed, as they make the last one.


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