Thursday, January 30, 2014

Ritualized book destruction

If you are a regular reader of this blog you probably are aware that while I’m interested in preservation, I also have more than a passing interest in the “opposite” of preservation – decay, destruction, etc. And so, it is not a bit surprising that over the course of a couple weeks I’ve found myself becoming a bit giddy at encountering two pieces about the ritualized destruction of books and other memory objects.

It is not a stretch to suggest that books often take on significant value for peoples. In the western world the intentional destruction of books is often met with deep emotional responses of anger and outrage. Books are often given the personal value of people who may have written the book, or read the book, or owned the book. Books can become associated with strong emotions – and those strong emotions are not always good, and they are not strong emotions that we always want to hold onto.

Humans of all stripes and of all religious and unreligious varieties often find meaning and value in ritual activity, whether or not they identify their activities as ritualized. We have significant rituals for recognizing births and deaths and other transitions. And our lives are filled with much smaller rituals around smaller daily tasks from things we do when we get up in the morning, how we interact with others, and other patterns of behavior.

So, given the value certain books can play in our lives, and given the value certain rituals can play in our lives, it seems only appropriate that people explore rituals of the destruction of books. Destruction – like death and other endings – often have some negative connotations, they are seldom completely pleasant, but this doesn’t mean they are not important events that need to be acknowledged and owned.

With these ideas running through my mind I was pleased to hear about two organizations who are exploring meaningful rituals of the destruction (or transformation) of personal memory objects, including books.

The first is D3 which describes itself as providing “object divestment services.” “D3 is an artist-run service specializing in helping people part with emotionally burdensome objects.” They provide a thorough process to help individuals thoughtfully, and creatively, dispose of an object which holds unwanted meaning. I’ve never arranged a funeral, but it seems like they provide some very soulful and therapeutic funeral service for you and your object. (The fact that this group plays an active role in “killing” your object kinda messes up the funeral home analogy.)

And then on the BookArts list I came across the more book specific “Deep Fried Book” program of Peace Paper Project. This program describes itself thus, “Through hand papermaking, writing, book and printmaking activities, we work together to transform significant articles of clothing into works of art that broadcast personal stories, mutual understanding and healing.” The Deep Fried Book project “invites pedestrians to batter, fry and transform their negative associations with a difficult book from their past.”

I’m pleased to see how these two organization recognize the emotional weight and value books, and other objects, can have for us. I’m also pleased at the recognition that occasionally the need exists to take an active role in destroying, transforming, releasing those objects and their roles in our lives.

We often go through meaning ritualized acts in our acquisition, use, and preservation of these books. It only makes sense to go through a meaningful ritualized act to dispose of some of them too.

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