Friday, January 20, 2017

What are we reading for?

I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound or stab us. If the book we're reading doesn't wake us up with a blow to the head, what are we reading for? So that it will make us happy, as you write? Good Lord, we would be happy precisely if we had no books, and the kind of books that make us happy are the kind we could write ourselves if we had to. But we need books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. That is my belief.
— from a letter to Oskar Pollak from Franz Kafka, 1904.

Here's another thoughtful work from La Biennale de Montréal 2016 at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, themed Le Grand Balcon. In Zac Langdon-Pole's My Body, poetic extracts are spelled out with enlarged ornamental letters (such as drop caps are often styled) in various typographies and with different artistic sensibilities (some are stark and modern, others cherub-laden). The different verses are introduced with epigraphic photographs; these are subdued in colour and highly reflective. Upon this visual is etched some textual excerpt, like textured text (my photo atempts can't capture it). The first framed photo here cited Kafka.

This section spells out "by the light of the axe / in my secret life / I am with him."

I really appreciated how difficult it was to decipher the text, both the photos and the initials, and their juxtaposition creates a puzzling but engaging tension. More than anything, though, I'm inspired to read Kafka's letter.

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