Monday, August 23, 2010

One of my lesser-known publications... "Touching a Book is Like Touching a Body"

original posting, Cinco de Mayo, 2009

Back in 2007, I published a short piece on the pleasure of the text, an informal rip-/riff off of Barthes's Pleasure of the Text and an attempt, as well, to get folks (in this case the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of San Diego) to value these cherished uncanny objects that might soon go the way of 8-track cassettes! Who knows how many eyes ever rested on the page, but it was written for a general audience, not pointy-headed academics, so maybe it will get a little light of day here on the galleryblog. The piece appears below--click the page-image to make it huge!

Touching a Book is Like Touching a Body

William A. Nericcio

You never know what’s going to happen to you when you first touch the pages of a book. And, truth be told, that’s one of the things books have in common with people—with friends, family, lovers, and strangers.

It could be magic! It could be an encounter that leads to tragedy.

Only one thing is certain--if you take the chance to reach out and touch a book, and then (this is the hardest part) let that book reach back and touch you back, you will never be the same again.

Reading a good book is like getting a tattoo—it gets under your skin, darkening diverse and unpredictable spaces in your mind. The only thing more dangerous than reading a book is not reading one.

The secret they don’t teach you in school, or, at least the lesson I didn’t learn until recently, is that each book carries within its pages, the key to a lock hidden in the next book you read. If you read One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez, for instance, you might finally be able to finish that incomprehensible and forgotten book on your shelf by William Faulkner (Light in August, anyone?); reading The Crystal Frontier by Carlos Fuentes can open the door to dark, hidden secrets in John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.

It works for other media as well—reading Kurt Vonnegut can make Stanley Kurbrick movies come alive; the sparse prose of Clarice Lispector can make the erotic photography of Helmut Newton speak in new ways to your eyes (and the rest of your body as well).

I always feel sorry for people who tell me (and they love to tell me and often) that they do not read books—it’s as if they are showing off their puritanical stupidity, bragging about their limited intellect. It’s like standing up at a cocktail party and bragging you’ve never had a date!

They should just shut up and read.

I like to think of a book as a body of ink—it’s not for nothing that we speak of an author’s life achievements as a “body” of work. Bodies of ink, bodies that breathe and bleed—Corpus/Cuerpo... Bodies.

Odd words, familiar and at the same time somewhat strange. We know what our bodies are--we can see them, feel them, and smell them among other things. They give us pleasure; they give us pain.

But what is a body of ink? Is it like a body of water? A body of thought?

For those of us acquainted with the Judeo-Christian tradition, the words will strike you as familiar: Cuerpo, Corpus, Corpus Christi, the body of Christ and all that. But whether you are religious or not is not the issue--anyway, being the talented student of contemporary culture that you are (and it is presumed that Hispanic Chamber of Commerce members are cultured, literary, guapa, guapo, y listos!), you would never want to underestimate the impact of the Judeo-Christian tradition on First World Western culture.

In short, we are surrounded by bodies of all sorts: here in the pages of this magazine (or in the online PDF version of the same), and also, outside of here in libraries, in computer information networks, everywhere. Bodies of people and bodies of knowledge--a chaotic sea of resources and threats: a kind of river through which we swim whether we think of it or not.

Books, all kinds of books, provide us with suggestions how to better navigate these chaotic waters—the chaotic, choppy waters of literature and life.

Say what you will about reading. Abandon your libraries to the various and daily affairs you have with your blackberry, your iphone, your computer or your myspace and facebook pages. But this idea of a book as a body of ink, as a sensual source of pleasure, pain, excitement and diversion is one that won’t go away. Close this damn magazine already (or get off that damn iPad of yours) and plunge your greedy fingers into the pages of a good book—you’ll never be the same again.

And that, amigo mio, is a good thing.

image source

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