Next year

The Book Phenomenon 2oo8

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen,

It seems to me that today I am here to some extent by mistake. I am the person who has been living off books, both metaphorically and literally. Not that I eat pulp but I edit, read and talk about books (in the arbitrary order) and this makes my living. Therefore, I look upon a book in quite a utilitarian fashion and despite all the beauty of works exhibited here I can't put off my fears that if these should be books, I would soon die of hunger.

Allow me a short contemplation. It has been cited that the word book is of a Turco-Tatar origin (some people even talk about the word being derived from Chinese "King") and its meaning is essentially the same as a letter or character. In virtue of this, the nature of book is somewhat unnatural: much like a character or lettering, the book is always something more than only a visible substance. It is a symbol, cipher, which transcends its obvious appearance and forces a man to try to make sense of it in order to unite that physical and metaphysical nature.

Hence, a book cannot exist without its reader because it would remain just material. That is why from the beginning its visual - or if you want - its creative concept has been playing such a role. Just this showed the importance of the included message and now and then also the way of reading and understanding the text. No matter whether the calligraphy, illustration, typography, printing or binding has been concerned, the presence of latent tidings has always been demonstrated through them waiting for their discoverer and decipherer.

However, it seems that after many centuries the joint journey of a text and artwork has been at a crossroads. As if the text was not dependent on the book body and looked for new possibilities in digitizing. And as one can see here, the book - artefact tries to do without any text, too. No wonder that I am panicking a bit. One can welcome that millions of texts can be at my disposal by just a mouse-click and that I can look for particular passages and cite them without turning overleaf. It is surely brilliant that I can see really precious objects here and you can believe me that I would like to have many an object at home. (After all, books have always been stolen...) But are they still books? Perhaps it should be so. For the rest, the letterpress has been around only for several centuries and if the traditional form of book should be over, there would remain only a negligible episode in the human history after it.

What I will be doing, I don't know yet. I will obviously become neither an "IT-Nerd" nor a trustee. Therefore, I think it would be fair if this exhibition yield was sent to a bank account for publishers' widows and orphans.

The author is editor-in-chief of publishing house Host.

Miroslav Balastik