A cut in the skin

Graz, Universitätsbibliothek, Ms 768

There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in. Leonard Cohen’s immortal words do get through the cracks of our understanding.

There is no blemish-less sheet of parchment.

The words are failing because the leaf is torn.

Everyone is familiar with Kintsugi, the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold powder. But few in the West have seen a 1,000-year old manuscript made of animal skin where the lacerated vellum has been sewn and mended. Imperfect writing always happens on an imperfect surface.

What is an author if not a lacerating, bleeding quill spilling through the cracks of the manuscript? The medieval scribes understood that and turned imperfection into art, like in the image below.

A handstitched repair with silk thread in a manuscript from Seckau Abbey, Graz, Universitätsbibliothek, Ms 479 fol 154r

Someone has yet to write a metaphysics of insufficiency, a reading aid for those who have the insight of gratitude in adversity, those who are willing to accept but not relent, to acknowledge and push through. Who can understand the limits while tragically try to surpass them in full knowledge that the effort will be both admirable and futile.

How do you make a book? By making cuts in the skin. By folding and cutting and pricking and lining. The words come last, but there is no final word, because time can’t be stopped. As pages get bruised, meaning is formed around the edges, like coagulated blood.

Broken vessels, torn tissue, and the light that comes through.

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