book,

“a unit of culture”: an encapsulated form that a cogent intraconnected chunk of complexity tends to take; scope, pragmatics, material forms vary through history but the understanding store of a book remains “about the same relative to a contemporaneous life” — explaining the gradual climb, over centuries, of the average volume.  ■    Against the background of “scattered knowledge” (“simply life”), a book is a living cell in the primordial chemical soup: grows by feeding on the environment but guards itself behind a membrane; inside the walled therisity teems the organizing, “medieval,” authoritarian bookworld that “shuts you out” but “sucks you in.” Theres probably no going back to universal approachability: artificial cooking and natural selection (not quite a metaphor, book genetics can be traced and survival rates decomposed) both favor hermetic, deeply dimensional books with strong gravitation and a respectable entry barrier; a book is a throw into the future — a time capsule, message in a bottle: the tougher its shell the longer itll stay afloat (and breed). Thats one reason why paper-like books with their monumental constancy and reassuring covers have survived — and why books in any media use some forms of encapsulation to stimulate slow, detached, intakeful reading. ■    Death of the Book has been a worse scare than (sadly recurrent) book burnings; more than once, amplified visuals threatened to kill off reading — but either lost or ended up becoming “the new book” (“the only way to replace the book is to invent a better one”). “Always-worry about the abstract, always-wary of the sensual” (especially visual), we like to see the latter as a threat to the former — but its always the words, signs, ideas that survive while sights and sounds of the past vanish traceless; revitalized by each painful moulting, the book takes revenge on whatever is trying to jam it. ■    Something triggers accelerating growth in a namespace around a text, idea, personality: a book is born. Such a protobook opens directly into the surrounding ocean, its membrane barely perceptible — unity is maintained by sheer internal pressure. As growth slows down, the membrane thickens, ossifies; external feeds wither away, hastily gobbled material blends together, hardens, transforms unrecognizably; internal fermentation tapers off: the book enters a freeze, may see a hatching of a first public release. In the subsequent “age of asymptotic stability,” the book is alive primarily by being different — whats not in it matters as much as what is; eventually all updates dry up even though slow books may keep accreting for generations (a surge in revisions of a stabilized book may mean that a new book is trying to break out from the old shell). At some point — years or millennia into the future — the book enters its twilight: “dusted with residue,” it reads as a historical document but stops to matter — can be enloved but wont engage; as in a dead cell, there is no osmosis anymore at the flaccid membrane: the books useful substances have long ago dispersed in the ocean, fertilized it for future generations.  ■    Clothes are no longer worn for cover: similarly a physical codex — material tome — does not aim to facilitate pragmatic reading (there are faster ways to inknow); an essentially human phenomenon, codices are compiled in quantity even though they are nearly indestructible — one of the few classes of material objects consciously exempt from dissolving. With knowledge-oozing arf walls, the human home is quite literally made of books (even visibly: arfgrass) yet its living areas — “dens of daydreams,” “enchanted libraries of Everday” — tend to grow manual bookshelves as well. Freed from weight or accessibility limitations, the best tomes pack a complete oeuvre of an author (school, epoch) with all variant readings, illustrations, scholia, commentary throughout the ages — traversing the meta ladders all the way up, down, sideways from the celebrated core. ■    Heir to the millennia of book art, a compilable codex is a vast hierarchical booksource — from molecular alignments to culture-scale content metamarkup; each level of the source is primed by sophisticated random stylers (originally mocking the wear and printing artifacts of old books) but manually evolved — “megahours of loving work” — to perfect the impact of each letter, word, page. Type is generally smaller than in the Gutenberg era (blame better eyesight and new reading techniques); organic microtypography of movable type means no two glyphs are exactly alike across the entire universe of compilables. History of the book: from a laborious handmade artifact — to the monotony of machined mass production — and back again to the advanced handcraftedness of “Librarians' obsession.”  ■    Master repositories of major public books — beacons in the Knowledge ocean — are owned by meritocratic collectives that develop, review, arbitrate, release; forks and extinctions happen but mergers and revivals are just as common (at least theyre easier in books than in more systemic ware). A compiler will bake you a snapshot at any time but many consider it a waste to print your own copy unless it has your contributed copyedits.

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