World Book Day, March 2, has such a universal title. It is an opportunity to celebrate the book, but also to marvel at the devotion, the worship that a lot of people have for it. This reverence goes beyond the simple object. Books have rescued people in tough straits from the aloneness of their childhoods, their prison sentences or repressive regimes. Books become saviors.
It is not a far leap to think of authors who hold the book sacred, and attempt to write a sacred, all-encompassing Book that is a literary microcosm of the universe. James Joyce had that grand view; in Ulysses and Finnegan’s Wake, for instance, he swept everything – including the Search for All – into his books’ structured core. He took his model from Homer, Dante, Milton, and before that, The Book that started it all – the Hebrew Bible. In the great mystical act of creation, the book exists concurrently, even before Genesis; no book, no world.
Convinced at bottom that there is only one book, authors and poets like Mallarmé and Blake attempt to stand in Creation’s ongoing stream, and through artistic revelation, channel it. If one stays open to nature, as Baudelaire suggests in the poem “Correspondences,” one can connect with its underlying structures, the universe’s core. It is an act of profound attention: Letters, freed from literal mundane function, mysterious incarnations of sound, are full of primordial meaning. Writing poetry might be catching the breeze of energy as a page is turned.
The book is everywhere: World as text, World at book. You have to be open to reading it.