Sunday, November 05, 2017


“Codex” is the technical name for paper with marks bound inside two cardboard, cloth and or heavy coated paper covers the same size.  In other words:  books.  The process of selling them includes creating a mystical aura of importance based on the fact of their expense, their usefulness, and the impact of their contents on the culture.

Those who feed the hunger of potential book-writers will mostly concentrate on teaching the trajectory of a story: the set-up, the challenges to the main character, the turning point, and a resolution.  We teach that in junior high.  The other, more philosophical questions, might be these considered here, which are a beginning stab at a realm of concepts I haven’t thought about earlier, but which explain a lot of my decisions.

1. How do you create a mystical aura of importance?
2.  How do you convince buyers this particular codex is worth money?
3.  What is useful about your idea?
4.  What impact can the contents have on the culture?


Most people (she said, trying not to sneer) live in a bubble of assumptions that are mostly inherited from family, school, culture, church and so on.  The preponderance of them are meant to sustain the status quo.  Most of the sources are institutional, ideas from organized bureaucracies that enforce themselves through these ideas/rules/conventions.  

We’re told now that during gestation our brains begin to physically form “platforms” or skeletons or structures for the way they work in confronting what is outside the skin of the creature.  After birth, when the world is less cushioned, the confrontation with the world is far more confusing and the brain begins to “prune” — if not espalier — the ideas in the brain, quite literally dropping out the connections previously formed.

When I was challenged to seek the roots of universal “religious” ideas and did a bit of research, it struck me that the “mystical” authors of the past described the binary experiences of the newborn: warm/cold, held/dropped, light/dark, nourished/starved, bliss/despair — all dyads and all very basic.  These concepts must have been saved from being “pruned” because they were so intense, early and primal.  But we rarely feel them with the intensity of an infant’s consuming emotion, as saints seem to.  

My premise, untested, is that the sensations of mysticism is created when a human brain is pressed back into the primordial concepts or — the opposite way of escaping the bubble of conformity — forced out into a world that is as unknown as the one we met at birth.  A story or information set or experience that can do either of those things will be “felt” as mystical.  Not superstitious or magic or supernatural, but overwhelmingly Other.  Incomprehensible.

One can evoke this through an unaccountable personality (Jesus, Buddha) or through a previously unknown but coherent social group, maybe even a culture.  Sometimes a landscape is enough.  There are periods of breakthrough in history — the invention of sea-going ships, penetrations of unknown worlds like the Amazon jungle or (if you leave humans out) the terrible depths of the sea, or cosmic outer space or the world of the tardigrades, imagined as microscopic “bears.”  

This is entirely apart from the bureaucratic institutions of knowledge and obedience.  The element of transgression may be a path.  Forbidden books are more valuable.


What makes certain books sell?  The mystery skill of “reading” combined with the endorsement of bureaucratic institutions (Koran, Bible, Shakespeare) can cause these books to become totems, magical objects, but also the passing culture can make a book into something you want to leave around where others can see that you know enough to acquire them, regardless of whether you read them.

If there is a hint of the mystical (“Be Here Now,” “Walden,” “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek”) that quality can attract readers who truly value the writing and try to enter its spell repeatedly over time.  Their copies become dog-eared, stained, foxed by use until known by heart.

Another way to make a codex valuable is to make it glamorous by using fine design and materials until it is a beautiful object.  Then there is the value of the local, unique, personal, handmade, maybe primitively naive as in aborigines.  One could argue that Australian first peoples are the most mystical thinkers of all, but they never made “codexes.”  If you could capture their thought in a codex, that would sell.  But a film would be easier.

Mysticism cries out for poetry.  Poetry cries out for mysticism, even the meaning of the ordinary.  

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

— William Carlos Williams


The transmission of practical knowledge (recipes, specs for a giant airplane, medical treatments) has always been in codex form: dictionaries, encyclopedias, handbooks, catalogues, laws.   The problem is that the information changes all the time, but the Codex — once printed — does not.  As soon as people realized this, the information categories migrated online.  Then the problem has become the necessity of updating, the possibility of corruption, and the need for a machine to present the print --  all new for people who are used to a codex.  Until they build those aspects into their protocols, online will be problematic.  “Writers” might become print wranglers, which might be paid jobs, like copy editing.


A codex that tries to change the culture through awareness, practicality, ethics, a call to a specific cause, has got to be political.  (“Polis” the people, and “Demos” the people mean roughly the same thing, but note the other particle:  Kratos,” power over.  There is another important root:  Oikos which refers to the ecologies of creatures, land, arrangements.

If a writer were able to weave all four points of view into a narrative, the reader might be deeply persuaded.  Or if, as we are ruefully acknowledging, a cynical or deluded person could embody and enact the hunger of the people for safety and stature, he could become Krakatoa.  Even Trump has produced his Codexes, though he actually paid others to write them.  The power of his ideas mostly come through our ears, with mobs, and without elegance.  They are on hats, not pages.

Now we’re in the terrain of “Das Capital,” and “Mein Kampf”.These codexes amplify individual authors who are obsessed.  Their fame comes to meet them through a prepared society they recognize but don’t control.  

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