Wednesday, October 29, 2003

A Book in the Hand, and New Eyes for its Complexity

A change of perspective gives rise to an intuitive image of dazziling complexity

Think of some piece of sculpture, real or imagined, it doesn't matter. Visualise it, see its shapes, its curves, its lines, its angles. How could the complexity of such a work be expressed? How could it be measured? I have no idea what the answer is, but I'd expect that a major part of it would involve the complexity of its shape. Perhaps mathmatical tools of topology could be used to give some fairly objective measure of it, for example. Hold that thought.

Now imagine you have a book in your hand, again any book will do. We can also think about a book's complexity. This is something which has no doubt been done by various people, and I imagine that issues such as the complexity of the writing, the plot and the characters are common parts of such attempts. The other day it occurred to me a very different conception of a book's complexity. I'm not saying it's a better way, but it is quite different, and I think it is quite provocative.

It's really quite simple, you look at its shape. Turn it around in your hands and you'll see it's a prism. Open it up and look inside and you see what really makes up the book, the words. This change of perspective reveals a dazzlingly complex construction: the intricate shape of a letter, appearing in each of the book's letters, chained one after the other, in an edifice spanning thousands and thousands. This, the combined shape of each and every letter stretching from page one to the end, is the shape of the book.

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