WHY DO I MAKE MY BOOKS THE WAY I DO?
1. [discovering new territories]
I can’t say whether I was six or seven or maybe five years old. Maybe I was attending the school or maybe not yet. This I don’t remember. I remember the book I got as a gift. On the cover there was a helm with a triangle window cut out in it. I could turn the helm and see the thick, red or blue line showing the itinerary of Colombus expedition across Atlantic. When I opened the book there was Colombus’ ship inside with the crew working on the board. I don’t remember if there was any story – maybe only some names, of islands, of seas, of lands ..... Well, nothing special - I could say – just a pop-up book for kids. There are hundreds of such books. So why do I remember this book so well while I don’t remember so many other books I met in my childhood? Maybe because it told me (how?) that a book needn’t be flat, is not flat like a story it tells is never flat, like the world you travel around is not flat ...... A book has many dimensions. I don’t know how many, definitely more than four. Some of them are very little explored, some not explored at all, virgin. They invite me. They invite us. A vast, unknown territory is in front of me, of us.
2. [playing music]
I began to learn to play piano quite early. Practising was never a torture for me. My hands were gifted and my fingers could dance on the keyboard easily. Harmony was always a big trouble for me. Neither my parents nor me were thinking of a professional career. Quite surprisingly for myself I began drumming at the age of twenty. Even more surprising is that later I have spent as a drummer more than twenty years on the stage playing hundreds of concerts almost all over the continent. I have heard many different opinions about my playing, I have talked with a lot of people after the concerts. The most surprising is that nobody ever asked me: What did you play about? What is your music about? Very interesting, isn’t it? But when I show to somebody my book the very first question is: What is your book about? Very strange, indeed. Well, then ..... what is the music about? Strange question, isn’t it? Let’s try another: everybody knows that a work of art consists of the form and the content, so what is the content in music? Very strange question, isn’t it? Everybody knows very well what is the form in music. But the content? And the answer is astonishingly simple: the form is the content. Absolutely not surprisingly this is so also in the case of writing and painting and in the case of any art.
3. [being inspired by]
Once, after a concert, a guy came to me. He was a nice guy, enthusiastic, but tipsy. He asked importunately: Tell me about your inspirations. Tell me what has inspired you. I heard Latin America. Yeah, I heard Latin America. Tell me... And I told him: You are wrong. You should have heard great Russian prose of last two centuries. And what should I say if somebody asks me what has inspired me in my writing? I’m trying to guess but the list of inspirations could be extremely long.
4. [scoring music]
I have been playing improvised music. I don’t use scores. I even can’t imagine my playing scored. But I can imagine myself discovering a library full of scores of the music of a lost civilisation. Could I really imagine what kind of music they played? ..... In Africa one can score spoken poems with drumming. Drumming is like scoring and one scores only suprasegmental components of the speech yet it’s enough for a listener to reconstruct the message. While in Japan they use language to score music – they use the same characters to score the similar sounds one can produce either with an instrument while playing or with a mouth and throat while talking ...... What kind of scoring did the lost civilisation use? It doesn’t matter whether it does or does not matter. Definitely scoring in not music. Scoring can be only a small part of music. Definitely writing is not a book. Writing can be only a part of a book. Even the most important, but always a part.
5. [thinking is not talking]
Overwhelming majority of people think that thinking is just talking silently in one’s head. As usually the overwhelming majority is wrong. If it is right then what is composing a symphony (hearing sounds, chords, scales, melodies in one’s head) or imagening a new aircraft (seeing parts of it, maybe wings or maybe engine in one’s head) or working out a mathematical theory ( ........ its elements in one’s head)? Talking silently in one’s head is just a small part of thinking. I can’t help it.
That’s the way it is.
6. [talking is not a language]
It’s not a nonsense. It’s a yessense. Because talking is only a part of a language. What are the other parts? Gesturing, grimacing, touching, moving, seeing, vibrating, etc. Language is a system of communication. Messages can be send through different channels. Words are one of those channels. Consciously and unconsciously we use all of them. And we are masters in using them.
We are also masters in forgetting about it.
7. [naming is not understanding]
We are Civilisation of Words. Of Names. Of Labels. We hope words can explain everything. We think that things without names can’t exist. We believe in power of words. We imagine that it’s enough to give something a name, to put a label on it and we can understand it. In fact it’s not enough. Naming is only a part of understanding. It can help a lot. But it can be a great obstacle in understanding since we so easily replace a described thing with a description of it. Like we replace life with rituals-rites-routine and time with calendars. Understanding is always beyond words. Beyond names and labels. Beyond symbols. Is understanding beyond pictures? Understanding is always beyond. Or before. Or under. Or over. Or beside. Or between. Or among.
8. [translating a myth]
Have you ever translated a myth? Or a mythology? I have. If you haven’t then try. But remember that a myth is almost never written – it’s almost always told or spoken. In fact – performed. And “performed” means that the words are only a part of myth. There are dancers, there are masks, there are costumes, there are symbols, there is music, there is singing, there is shouting and whispering, there is a night and there are bonfires, there is a space ...... But our civilisation is a civilisation of script. Of an alphabetic script. We are deeply convinced that everything can be grasped by written words, imprisoned in letters. We don’t know what was in the beginning, but we do like to believe that it was a Word. Of course a Written Word. We believe that black, flat, immobile letters can tell us everything about colourful, multidimension, moving world. Could even replace it. We have always preferred mythology to reality. We have always preferred maps of space to space itself. They are less dangerous.
9. [studying architecture]
I was studying architecture. I was learning to read the space. I was learning to write the space. Although I have never worked as an architect I have never forgotten about the space. I know that nothing flat can replace space. Nothing, nobody, never ...... Maybe that is why I have always thought about a book as about a house, an edifice, a structure you can enter and walk through it visiting rooms, chambers, halls, corridors, climbing staircases up and down. Maybe that is why I am dreaming about a book where letters are big as houses and space between them is like streets, avenues and yards.
10. [visiting Egypt]
Once I was in such a book. In a book big as a temple. In a book deep as a tomb ..... Entering a pharaoh’s tomb was like getting inside the book, between pages, among signs, characters, letters. Funny feeling – to be in the living book of the dead ..... Another funny feeling I couldn’t get rid off – walking among hieroglyphs covering numerous papyruses, coffins, stelae, sarcophaguses I somehow understood them although I don’t know the language of ancient Egypt, although I couldn’t and can’t read them. Another channel of conveying messages? Beyond-reading conveying belt? But there was nothing mystic in it. It was only very very high context communication. Was it (Is it) a non-reading?
11. [travelling round the script]
Very often (may I say “usually”?) the editors and publishers in Poland whom I showed my books indicated some dada experiments (maybe they also thought about Apollinaire, Cendrars, futurists .... maybe) as the source of my ideas. They never mentioned Egyptian hieroglyphs, Chinese writing-painting, Japanese scrolls and woodcuts, Arabic calligraphy, illuminated books of India, Centran Asia and Europe, Maya and Azcet codices, rongo-rongo and nsibidi signs, pictograms on rocks and in caves, writing on leaves on bamboo on leather on clay on silk from top to bottom from bottom to top from left to right from right to left with bustrophedon ...... and they never mentioned a lot of other things. What a stupefying narrow-mindedness!
Handwriting is fascinating. Probably the most fascinating is how easily writing can turn into drawing and drawing into writing, how smoothly letters can change their shapes and size, how quickly and vividly my hand can react on my moods. Enormous expression possibilities. Astonishing flexibility. Almost like in our voice. And the big problem of legibility ..... But some texts look better (and are better) when printed. While the others – handwritten. Strange, isn’t it? That’s the great challenge: to adapt to printing all possibilities and advantages of handwriting.
13. [learning shorthand]
Once I began to learn shorthand. I wanted to be able to make notes terribly fast. I wanted to be able to write the pictures floating in front of my eyes. Then I found that trying to transform my hand in a camera was ridiculous. I would be so fast I wouldn’t have time to admire landscapes. Written landscapes are virtual landscapes. Besides, shorthand is a fonetic script and I was looking for something different.
14. [learning to write Chinese]
I know several languages. All of them belong to the Indoeuropean family. I wanted to try to learn a totally different language. Just to widen my language imagination. Just to to see what other worlds are like (Sapir + Whorf + the others => language = world). I chose Swahili – an aglutinative one and Chinese – an isolating one. Now I can speak neither Swahili nor Chinese but I don’t complain I wasted my time. It was really exciting experience. I was aware that without a teacher it was impossible to learn to speak Chinese so I concentrated on writing. I could learn by myself only to write. Unfortunately I had not enough time and I am still a Chinese illiterate. But I found that what I had written using Chinese characters I could read in any language. Almost like in the case of digits. It’s absolutely amazing, isn’t it?
15. [not learning calligraphy]
No, I didn’t and don’t want to learn calligraphy. Neither Chinese, nor Japanese, nor Arabic, nor European. Any. Although I admire it. Especially Chinese one. Because I don’t want to write beautifully. I want to write more and more meaningfully.
16. [translating haiku]
Haiku is a poem. You can read it and admire metaphors, associations, sounds, allusions, etc. Translating a poem, doesn’t matter if it has seventeen syllables or sixty four thousand is always difficult, but somehow possible. But haiku is also a picture (I mean Japanese haiku written-painted with Japanese-Chinese characters). You can hang it on a wall and contemplate like you do in a case of a still-life, landscape or any other picture. How can a picture be translated? And haiku-poem is only a half-haiku.
17. [hanging a sonnet]
Sonnet is a poem. You can read it and admire metaphors, associations, sounds, allusions, etc. But sonnet is not a picture. You can’t hang it on the wall and contemplate like you do in a case of a still-life, landscape or any other picture. Well, of course, you can hang it on the wall, even in a frame, but it won’t be a picture because it can’t be more than a sheet of paper with a text written on it. Partially because almost nobody (I’m afraid even Shakespeare) have thought of it as of a picture. Partially because it is composed of letters which long time ago forgot once they had been pictures themselves.
18. [talking and meaning and writing]
We know, we know it perfectly well ..... Oh no, we don’t know it, we don’t know it perfectly well that the meaning of a word depends (at least partially) on the way we pronounce it, on the sound of our voice, on the gesture we make the same time, on the neighbouring words, on the context of utterance, on the situation, etc. We don’t know it, but we are master in using these tricks and we use them hundreds, thousands times a day. I should rather write: we don’t want to know it, we prefer to know the meaning of a word does not change in any circumstances. How about writing? Oh, we are even more sure and more convinced that the meaning of a written word does not depend on its written form. But in fact it does and we use sometimes italics or bolds when we want to prompt a reader that a word has (slightly or entirely) different meaning than it has usually. How about colours, sizes, shapes, etc?
19. [making my first book]
Was it a book? Just twenty or thirty sheets of glossy paper, not bound, only stitched on the top. Type-written text, not justified, flowing like a wild river whose banks were to be covered with bushes of drawings by my brother ..... But my brother drew nothing. He wanted to draw something but he couldn’t. He simply can’t draw or paint anything when he is asked for. This is what I do appreciate so I didn’t persist and that is why the text has no drawings. Later I didn’t ask anybody to do anything for my books. I did everything by myself ...... Not exactly. Lately I have taken some drawings and pictures made by my little daughter. But I didn’t ask her. I am an awful father.
20. [reading my brother’s diary]
About the same time my brother began to draw a diary. He designed simple pictograms and with their help depicted basic events and feelings of his daily life. He drew them with black ink on white background – maybe because he began his diary in a snowy winter day. He thought of preparing for future seasons green, yellow, grey, black and other backgrounds. With no doubt he would have to designed more characters. Soon he gave the project up. He was afraid the diary would compete too seriously with painting and he wanted to paint. He made probably three boards of his diary (he used boards, neither paper nor canvas). Only one has left, the first one. It’s hanging on the wall in my studio. Can be read in any language. Probably no dictionary is needed ...... Should I one day design my own pictograms and drawrite a book?
21. [reading Marco Polo]
Earlier my brother was reading DESCRIPTION OF THE WORLD by Marco Polo. Sometimes he was reading it aloud. Later I also read this book. Le Divisament Dou Monde. Later I read other books describing the world. By Ibn Battuta and by other authors.
22. [nondescribing the world]
Could I describe the world? No, I couldn’t. Because the world is indescribably beautiful or ugly or good or bad or gorgeous or awful or ..... It means I could only indescribe it. (But I somehow prefered to replace prefix in with prefix non. It gives more possibilities in constructing other words like nonwriting or nonreading.) Descriptions use flat and linear writing. Nondescriptions could use multi-stratum and non linear nonwriting being a result of merging different systems (pictograms, hieroglyphs, alphabets, drawings and others) and taking all their advantages and disadvantages. Thus I began to produce Nondescriptions. Parts minus three, minus two and minus one were thrown away. (Of course, they had different titles and they were simply not good enough or were mere descriptions). Elephant’s Tail – a tale about my travel to Egypt – could be and in fact is a zero part. It’s a collection of written pictures: each printed with different font on yellow and yellowish paper, because every picture has different shade and texture; they only seem to be not related one with another dripping and dropping in memory like sand grains ..... Then there was part one: the book-mosaic composed of various texts written and nonwritten during my numerous concert peregrinations across Europe; the book where colours appeared for the first time; the book of many successful and successless experiments ..... And then there was part two: a way-book; I was travelling southward; it was getting lighter and lighter so I started with black ink, then I used blue one and when I reached the desert I used dirty yellow so the text on the white page is trembling delicately like hot air hanging above stones and gravel ..... And then there is part three.
23. [inbookating the wood]
Imagine an invisible parallelepiped. Put it in the wood and dip a part of it into the ground – now there is a wooden fence around it, a small cottage inside, pine trees growing ...... Then make a literature tomography. As a result you will get an accordion book (leporello) of 365 and 1/4 sheets. If you turn the sheets leftward, you can travel in space from the uppest page-slice of [_] to the bottom one. If you turn the sheets rightwards, you can travel in time from the present (or maybe from vague and misty visions of the future) to Big Bang (provided it really had taken place) or even earlier. Travel in space - it’s the day side printed in colours. Travel in time - it’s the night side, dream side, printed mainly in black ...... So, you begin the travel. But it’s a different kind of travelling. Maybe it’s even a nontravel. It’s not a way-book, either. It’s a place-book. This book is a model of a certain place in the wood. In fact I wanted it to be this very place itself. I know it’s impossible, but maybe because of that worth trying.
24. [finding Yefim]
Parts zero, one and two are different because they were more improvised than composed, like a hitch-hiker’s journey is. Part three is more composed than improvised. It’s very precisely composed because I was dreaming about a book having all its parts, all components, meaningful and messaging. And finally I imagined the third part of NONDESCRIPTION OF THE WORLD. Maybe a month later I bought a facsimile edition of medieval Russian illuminated manuscript The Story of Boris and Gleb with a very interesting scientific commentary where Yefim’s book reform was mentioned. According to it the closest relation between external form of a word and its meaning (...), sense of every, even the smallest orthography and graphic phenomena should be shown; one has to assume that every letter in a word has its meaning and can change the sense of predication ..... And then it turned out that all parts of this book were closely related, none of them appearing accidentally. A face is a sign of the soul. A letter, sign, text is a face of the book ..... To read a text is like to look into eyes, read in the eyes of a hidden interlocutor. That is why the height of the letter is the same as the distance from the mouth to the eyebrows of figures in miniatures, while their heads have the size of two lines. This is how various structural levels are linked artistically ..... The scale of outer world space transforms into the scale of the book inner space ...... Was I disappointed that I’m not the first? No, I was not. I was awfully glad to know that I’m not alone although my way is not exactly the one of Yefim. Neither Yefim was the first, nor I am the last.
It took twelve years to complete the Big Book. With no doubt twelve years ago I was somebody else. Now I know more and can do more. Twelve years ago I had an old typewriter, pens and pencils, a lot of troubles to get paper and to Xerox something. Now I have computers, printers, scanners and can get easily any kind of paper. Editing texts written and nonwritten earlier (in former epoch) brings a temptation to change them, to improve, to make more perfect. Do I have such a right? Do I have a right to change documents? Maybe it’s better to keep old things as they are; maybe it’s better to make new books instead of improving (endlessly) the old ones. And while working on the Big Book I made six new books. But I couldn’t resist (rules need exceptions) and lately prepared a codex version of the Big Book. It’s a bicodex – two codices joint dos-a-dos thus giving a sand glass book as a result, a book without covers, without beginning and end ...... Having changed the construction of the book I made it more handy. I haven’t changed anything else. I have change as little as possible editing and printing the former parts of Nondescription which were originally typed 15-18 years ago.
26. [making new books]
Should I write something about my new books? Probably I should but I won’t do this here and now. They are next parts of Nondescription although have different titles ...... and different, sometimes quite complex, architecture. Instead I will write a few lines about a process so crucial to making my new books (and the third part of Nondescription of the World as well).
27. [imagining a book]
When I was studying architecture I used to design in a strange way. Anything I was to design, a single house or a whole district, I had to have at first in my head. I had to have the building standing in my head, ready to enter it and to live in it. Then I could start to draw. Only then.
Any book I am to make (write-edit-bind-print) I have to be able to take, keep it in my hands, turn all pages and hear them rustle and whisper. I have to know how to open it and shut. I have to know what my fingers feel touching the paper. I have to know all curves and bends of lines and dots. I have to cross semantic fields, phonetic meadows, syntactic woods. I have to see everything what this book performs in front of my eyes and in my hands and then put it on a shelf in the library of my head. Just then I can begin to write and nonwrite.
28. [integrating a book]
Writing, editing, designing, drawing, printing, binding, translating ..... isn’t it too much for one person? Yes, it is. But it seems to be the only way to get all components of the book really integrated, really fitting and inseparable. And changing the colour of a paragraph would be then like erasing some sentences out of it.
29. [being a master]
Isn’t it too much to demand mastery on every level of bookmaking process? No, it isn’t. Can I be a master in writing, editing, designing, drawing, printing, binding, translating ..... ? No, I can’t.
So, I’m in a trap. But what a challenge it is to me to get out of it!
30. [learning words]
I keep on learning words. I hope it sounds better, more proper, than I keep on learning languages. Remember: a language is a world. Can I become a native in the English world? No, I can be only a traveller, maybe a resident, a newcomer. But unless my great collection of universal pictograms is ready I have to use words. Sounds and pictures have a chance to be universal. Words don’t have such a chance. Even in Esperanto. Working with words means constant mistaking and misunderstanding. I try to hunt mistakes. I try really hard. But there’s always something missing and collapsing. Mistakes can be beautiful and blessed. Mistakes can be disastrous and devastating. But perfectness is boring and killing. I make more mistakes in Esperanto than in Polish. I make more mistakes in English than in Esperanto. I would make more mistakes in French than in English .....
31. [beyonding Joyce]
Working with words probably one can not go further than Joyce in Finnegans Wake. But one can go beyond ...... Remember that Joyce always had in his mind the amazing and colourful carpet of pages of The Book of Kells. But The Book of Kells has a great disadvantage: its main components can be separated. It seems Joyce was heading to eliminate this disadvantage and make (nonwrite?) a book-world. Probably it was only the matter of time. Unfortunately he had not enough time.
32. [seeking a place for myself]
Years ago, publishers were astonished and afraid. They wanted only words, they didn’t want to see anything else – only words. Thanks to them and to paper shortages in my country I started to type my books on both sides of a sheet and thus I found I could make books by myself. (It gave me possibilities to work on every detail, every part of a book. It made me responsible for every detail, every part of a book. To be responsible for what you do means to be free. But freedom has its price. This price was a number of copies: 10 or 20 instead 5000 or 10000.) Many years passed but they are still afraid and astonished and want only words. They think a serious books for serious adults can have inside only serious black letters on serious white paper. (Was The Book of Kells a crazy book for freaks?) ..... Are my books fine press books? No, I don’t use letterpress. Are they so called artists’ books? No, there is too much to read in them, too many narratives, too long stories, they are too close to literature. Are they normal books? No, they too far away from literature. Are they books for children? No, they are too serious. Are they books for adults? No, they are too crazy. Are they nonbooks? ...... They are always between beyond above under out off beside .....
33. [inventing liberature]
LIBERATURE – this is the word invented by a friend of mine. He maintains this is what I do.
34. [climbing a spiral]
Once upon a time our famous poet wrote: I want my nimble tongue to say everything what my head thinks of. The truth is that even the most nimble tongue can’t say what the head thinks of. The reason: the head thinks of thousands of things at the same time while words stream clumsily one at a time. It’s impossible to utter simultaneously even two different words; sometimes when another thought rushes into the sentence just being spoken then the syntax collapses, the tongue twists and slips, prefixes and suffixes don’t suite, we make a mistake ....... But one hundred fifty years later I (and not only I) want the same. The only difference is that now we know more about what’s going on inside and outside our heads than he knew. Future generations of writers, poets and bookmakers will know more than we know. The point is to (non)describe the world more and more precisely and adequately. Thus we can learn more and more about the world, what it is like and why.
35. [thinking of pageography]
I am thinking of writing one day a treatise on pageography ...... Tractatus Pageographicus?
Just not to forget that these are only books, codices, scrolls ..... these are only words, pictures, signs, symbols, descriptions, nondescriptions ......
I can’t bind a sea wave and put it on the shelf in my studio. Simply I can’t.
37. [rolling books]
these are only books’n’scrolls
but I like them
yes I do