A self-explanatory object
What would it take to write a book that not only was a book, but taught the reader how to read the book as well?The original post is here: https://erikbenson.typepad.com/mu/2004/0...
I’ve been thinking about self-explanatory objects. What would it take to write a book that not only was a book, but taught the reader how to read the book, and even before that was able to inform the person that the thing in their hands was a book that could be read. Is it possible to create a real time capsule that you can send out into space and expect the first intelligent being to be able to interact with it in the intended way? Okay, that’s a little ambitious, but is it possible to write a book and send it out into the bookstores and expect the first intelligent being that walks into the store to be able to interact with the book in the intended way? Every piece of art or literature has at least three pieces: the content itself, the language and context of the content, and the simple message that there is a language and a content to find in the object. If you’re missing any one of those three things, an alien that picked up your book would have trouble understanding what it was that they were holding. Even if they knew English, and could read the words on the pages, if they didn’t know that it was a book that should be read they’d be out of luck. Sometimes I feel this way. That you all are aliens. No, I’m not the alien.
Another take. Icebergs, ice cubes, potatoes. How much of a painting relies on things not in the painting itself? How much of the painting is submerged below the surface of the time period that it was painted, the history of the painter, the culture the painter grew up in, the manner in which the painter painted it, the initial audience and reception of the painting, etc? If you cut the umbilical cord of all paintings, packing them into a space ship and shipping them to another dimension where people were identical in all things except context and history, would they sort the paintings into the same order of greatness and mediocrity that we have sorted them into here?
Which things are more dependant on context than others: books, songs, paintings, photographs, jokes, buildings, fashions, wigs, automobiles, ethics, politics, the meaning of life, pizza toppings. And, does it matter? Should I keep seeking the beauty and complexity of context or should I shun it and try to find and make objects that can live outside that life support system?
How differently does a music novice treat Beethoven’s 9th versus a classical music aficionado? Is that gap somehow a measurement of the displacement of context involved in the art piece? Submerge the art into both minds, and measure the difference of appreciation. You think there’s more involved and I would agree but this is an over-simplification. There are some things that become worse the more you know about the context. Lots of movies that fall apart, lots of bands that are really overly manufactured and marketed, lots of books that have pulp disguised as meat. But, take the absolute value of context’s effect, positive or negative, as the degree to which something is rooted in the story around it. Some things are all story/context and are really just empty vessels for shipping interesting context to the hungry in little bite size pieces. Everything you see just because everyone else has seen it, everything you take part in just because you want to relate to the other people who have taken part in it.
Has someone studied context? Not to find out what the context of something is, but to study the phenomenon of context itself. Why we enjoy it, why we build things that attract it, why we do things to support it. What is it called? What are the forces that are involved and what controls their ebb and flow? Almost everything relies on context–the way we dress, the way we design our living and working spaces, the things we find interesting and the things we read and talk about, the way we perceive ourselves and the way we want to perceive ourselves. And yet you can’t cash it it. You can’t eat it or drink it or wrap it around you and stay warm at night. And in the end you leave it behind and it finds someone/something else to feed it.