Monday, February 11, 2008

bookbinding geekery

Mark is off in Arizona (February is probably one of the better times to be there) at the Estrella War. As is my wont, I've done some tidying, though I haven't hit the full-out blitzwerk that I sometimes achieve. I've cleared off most of the big table, and emptied three of the cubbies so that they can hold cds, but only a little dusting has occurred, and next to no sweeping. It tends to come upon me in spells, so I'm not much bothered that it hasn't yet.

The Medieval Seminar topic this year was Medieval Inventions, with a fair variety of lectures, including talks on water clocks, brewing, paper, and what Leonardo da Vinci actually invented.
Our display went well, with Daniel's contribution of clockwork and a puppet booth, Eda's loom, Brenda's great wheel, Stephen's music and Judy's pewter moulds. I got to play with the puppets, too.
I went to the talk on the invention of the page, which was a bit disappointing. Leaving aside the problem that the David Lam Auditorium is a cure for insomnia at the best of times, there was very little mentioned that was new to me, and I had philosophical issues with a number of the speaker's assumptions. First, he seemed to be ignoring the physical book in favour of pages in isolation--perhaps because, as he admitted, he loves fragmentary pages. But he considers the basic unit of the book to be the page. Not the leaf, not the two-pages-open, but the verso or recto considered all by itself. Which is only possible if you're examining a picture of the page, not the leaf or the book itself.
Even his diagram of a quire assumed that the folia were separate pieces from the get-go, inserted one inside the other. The folded model of a quire--the most common--wasn't even mentioned. Okay, I think the Insular mss were constructed that way, at least in the beginning, but it doesn't work very well, and it was abandoned for the folded model. (Unless you're talking one of the huge books that took one skin per folio.)
His mental model of a book seemed to be a stack of pages glued along the spine, like modern 'perfect' binding (irony of name duly noted) not medieval bindings at all.
This blinkered view created problems with his discussion of the proportions of the page as well. He didn't give any mention of Christopher de Hamel's observation that 'books are oblong because animals are oblong', and as Stephen said afterwards, he didn't discuss the relation of the page proportions to the Golden Ratio. In fact, he professed some bewilderment as to how the page had come to be so consistently proportional.
One of the difficulties of getting acquainted with the aesthetic of the medieval illuminated page is that we hardly ever see it the way it was meant to be seen: as two pages open, balancing each other. We see half, a page sundered, leaning awkwardly towards its vanished mate. A similar problem arises when we look at photographs of medieval or Renaissance panel paintings, usually shown without their frames, frames which were an integral part of the painting, created, glued, gessoed and gilded with it in the same workshop. It's as if art from all times and places must be reduced to the minimum, the studio concept of a stretched canvas.
Well, now I'm just depressing myself.

The Astrologer's Death creeps along, at maybe 150-200 words in an hour. But it is moving, at least. I expect it to be a much shorter draft than Willow Knot came out at, thank the Lord.
And I have an idea for a silly little short, based on a folksong I was listening to this morning. No possible market, but perhaps worth writing as an exercise.

On the arthritis front, the second knuckle of my left hand has stayed swollen (though not uncomfortable) since mid-January, but I don't know whether that's significant. My right shoulder was giving me gip this morning and most of the day, but that seems to have passed off now. I had full motion, but had to push my elbow with my other hand to get it above my shoulder, and after that it was fine.
I'm still learning the difference between 'not working' and 'hurts a bit but functions'.

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