the book as a container of consciousness

“It remains for the reader to realize the text, not only by reachieving the consciousness some works create (since not all books are bent on that result), but by appreciating the unity of book/body and book/mind that the best books bring about; by singing to themselves the large, round lines they find, at the same time as they applaud their placement on the page, their rich surroundings, and everywhere the show of taste and care and good custom – what a cultivated life is supposed to provide; for if my meal is mistakenly scraped into the garbage, it becomes garbage, and if garbage is served to me on a platter of gold by hands in gloves, it merely results in a sardonic reminder of how little gold can do to rescue ruck when ruck can ruin whatever it rubs against; but if candlelight and glass go well together, and the linens please the eye as though it were a palate, and one’s wit does not water the wine, if one’s dinner companions are pleasing, if the centerpiece does not block the view and its flowers are discreet about their scent, then whatever fine food is placed before us, on an equally completed plate, will be enhanced, will be, in such a context, only another successful element in the making of a satisfactory whole; inasmuch as there is nothing in life better able to justify its follies, its inequities, and its pains (though there may be many its equal) than in getting, at once, a number of fine things right; and when we read, too, with our temper entirely tuned to the text, we become – our heads – we become the best book of all, where the words are now played, and we are the page where they rest, and we are the hall where they are heard, and we are, by god, Blake, and our mind is moving in that moment as Sir Thomas Browne’s about an urn, or Yeats’s spaded grave; and death can’t be so wrong, to be feared or sent away, the loss of love wept over, or our tragic acts continuously regretted, not when they prompt such lines, not when our rendering of them brings us together in a rare community of joy.”

(William H. Gass, “The Book as a Container of Consciousness,” pp. 351–2 in Finding a Form.)

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