Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Covers like they used to make

Olive Schreiner's palm-sized book earned a cover embossed with silver.

I just put a lovely little unused gilt-edge datebook from last year on the table by my chair. It is slightly larger than the dark-blue covered GE pocket datebooks my father used to use. I'm imagining each already-past day has just about the space for me to stick in a haiku.

Tonight I am wondering what kind of a book, or paper Marcus Aurelius wrote his Meditations on. And what was the substrate for Sei Shonagon's Pillow Book? I'm supposing she wrote with ink and a brush and ground her own ink on an inkstone. And wrote on the paper that the story says was a gift from the emperor to the Empress Shonagon served. Were the sheets bound? I'll need to do some investigation.
 Louis Simpson--I am pretty sure, but will check--wrote on a typewriter. The book I am looking at tonight is called Ships Going into the Blue; essays and notes on poetry. These essays are short and very personal. Here's an example: 

"There was no method to teaching in those days, no "theory"--you just pitched into the text and tried to uderstand it, and explained it as best you could. I am not making any claims for our understanding, nor do I mean to attack the currently fashionable theoretical approaches to literature anad lament the disappearance of the author and the decline of Western civilization. Civilazation is always in decline, that's what makes it so interesting. Give me a losing cause every time. Now that communism is failing I think I may be able to get through Das Kapital." 
(page 12, University of Michigan Press paperback edition)

What the three books have in common is an episodic quality which reminds me of thinking--
first this, and then that. . .

Here is Sei Shonagon, from her section describing the best part of each season, on winter:
"In winter the early mornings. It is beautiful indeed when snow has fallen during the night, but splendid too when the ground is white with frost; or even when there is no snow or frost, but it is simply very cold and the attendants hurry from room to room stirring up the fires and bringing charcoal, how well this fits the season's mood! But as noon approaches and the cold wears off, no one bothers to keep the braziers alight, and soon nothing remains but piles of white ashes."
(page 21, Ivan Morris translation from Columbia University Press edition)
And tomorrow, I promise to continue with Marcus Aurelius. I've owed it to him since about 1952--and he must wait one more day. This shouldn't be too tough for a follower of the Stoics.
Posted by Picasa

1 comment:

  1. Probably vellum/scraped skins in scrolls. And I would think he'd have used a scribe and dictated, rather than writing himself. My younger is doing latin and fascinated by Roman history, so we've had a lot of conversations just like this lately.