One of the most enduring metaphors we use to make sense of the world and of ourselves is that of a book. Structuralism issued an invitation to study culture as a book. In the 14th century, Dante saw the universe as a poorly-bound book with scattered leaves in need of re/in-gathering, repair and conservation. St Augustine contrasted the book of human knowledge with the divine book, which can only be read ‘without the syllables of time’.
The quest for ToE (A Theory of Everything) in physics is the push towards ingathering all scattered leaves of the master manuscript into one single binding. We gravitate in a galaxy of books and rolls, each making claims on us and asking for our time. Scroll down.
No wonder then that today we see everything as text, as a book, sometimes closed, sometimes open, opaque or self-disclosing. The universe is a book that may be read through science. The self is a manuscript which may be perused through poetry, art or unpicked through a variety of deconstructive means. Our interpretation is an act of ‘reading’, but make sure you don’t read too much into it.
Words count more than ever. They can build or destroy, strengthen or undermine. In politics, we sometimes worry about the letter of the words to the exclusion of their spirit. We textualise ourselves on Twitter, and inscribe the walls of social media with evanescent fragments of self.
We are surrounded by text. It is everywhere, on our streets, on our fridges and on our T-shirts. It comes to us in fragments or in flux, and shapes how we understand the world not just around us, but also within us.