Almandal Grimoire: The Book as Magical Object

 Georgia Review & Rupture Magazine

Books have often been created and studied for the express purpose of effecting magical transformation, either literally or metaphorically, and this impulse on the part of book makers and book readers is a perfect object lesson in the confluence of spirit and matter. As books begin to lose their physical objecthood, we must ask whether the spiritual part that remains still holds on to its potency. Changes have occurred in the form and the process of making books over millennia, dramatically exemplified by the invention of the printing press, but today we are faced with an incalculably more extreme transformation, one that wrests the soul of a book from its physical body while telling us we have everything to gain and nothing to lose in the process. As Roger Chartier, one of the leading scholars in the field of book science, explains in Forms and Meanings: Texts, Performances, and Audiences from Codex to Computer, our current revolution "modifies not only the technology for reproduction of the text, but even the materiality of the object that communicates the text to readers". The electronic text revolutionizes the "text's status," he continues, because "for the materiality of the book, it substitutes the immateriality of texts without a unique location." In contrast to the former arrangement of text, margins, and pages, allowing for "the immediate apprehension of the whole work," this new form substitutes "the free composition of infinitely manipulable fragments . . . textual archipelagos that have neither shores nor borders." 
Anyone who thinks we will be able, in the future, to have both real and virtual books in any significantly equal proportion is ignoring the history of new media supplanting old, from orality to writing, from hand-illuminated to letterpress printing, from letterpress to offset, and beyond. Braids and knots are thought to hold spells and wishes and potencies. If spirit and matter were strands of silk twisted around each other, holding magical powers in the crux of their twining, whereto would these powers disperse were they unbound? What is a book without its binding?