history of paper


Pulp. Fibrous, cellulose pulp. Grass-paper, rag-paper, rag-and-bone, paperweight: in the second century Cai Lun developed a paper process. Tiny little papermills of the mind. Cogs and wheels of papermaking, pulping, rod-and-doweling. And then a lunatic of the senses, the world becomes that, is that, mired in that. Words. Cultural disease, newsprint, papyrus bundles. In the chemical pulping, all our senses. In the mechanical pulping, all trees like a billion Christmases. A cooking process. Waste fortifies chalk and china clay. Watermarks destroy the day and deckle its edges.

We’re all of an age that recycling is second nature. We use the backs of receipts for listmaking—if we use paper at all—before we toss paper into the recycle bin. We read on screen. We mostly do paperless banking, paperless billing, paperless letter writing. We practice efficiency. We download 572 books onto our little reading devices and plow through them candily.

But I’ll tell you what. I got the proof copy of my book in the mail yesterday, and there is nothing in the world like seeing your book in all its pulpy flesh. It is a real object, a hallelujah of paper and ink. It’s a book, which is a thing. I can slip it into my purse and feel it there. It’s the synecdoche of language-as-artifact, a receptacle for artfulness. I wouldn’t be nearly as happy to have a book published in the ether. Look! Here’s my book in the air! No way. I want to see it, feel it, bruise it, lick its spine.

The book industry could stand to cut down its waste, as all industries could. We’re wasteful motherfuckers with our overstocks and our throw aways—even the zoos breed more animals than they can use and sell them to more wasteful idiots who think having exotic pets is fun. Have you seen how much meat your big box grocer throws away weekly? The machine is unwieldy and alive all around us.

But trim the fat. Trim the fat. Don’t throw away the whole goddamn bird.

Random / 18 Comments
March 20th, 2011 / 2:58 pm