Sunday, May 19, 2013

Regarding Boethius, An Inspired Mann

If you're anything like me, you've lived your whole life in private, hopeful anticipation of the moment when you at last open up a book and find a magical clue inside, or stumble on a symbol in a bathroom, or overhear a secret transmission on the radio, and find yourself suddenly caught up in some mad and glorious adventure taking place in the hidden world you've always been half-sure exists just beyond your reach in the heart of your own city...

So a seriously marvelous thing happened to me the other day. I was at Green Apple Books, one of my absolute favorite bookstores on the planet (and location of one of my very earliest memories! The memory is a clear image of the racks and racks of books out front, and I know it's early because I also remember being wildly bored. I learned to read when I was three. Books have not bored me since). I picked up a volume of Borges's Book of Imaginary Beings. Lo and behold, tucked neatly into the front cover was a piece of paper in a plastic sleeve. This is the paper:

To find, wholly unexplained, what looks essentially like the calling card of some mystical literary gang inside a volume by Borges, that most secretive and sly of authors, is wild enough. To remember that one of Borges's most famous short stories is about Don Quixote, and to therefore find yourself immediately basking in the wonderful suspicion that layers of meaning are being revealed to you with all the intricacy and wonder of an Umberto Eco novel - well, that's even better.

I bought the book, and took it home, glowing with delight. Once safely behind closed doors, gloating over my discovery, I found there was a little paper sticker on the back of the plastic sleeve printed with the words I followed the link, of course, and found myself here. (Go look! I'll wait.) Okay, so it's not a coded invitation to the kind of literary salon where I get to help revive the ghost of Baudelaire and demand to know who really wrote Shakespeare's plays before all hell breaks loose and masked men chase me over the rooftops. But it is a thing of brilliance and genius. If you were too lazy to click though and see for yourself, you're missing out, because Peter Mann, aka Boethius, is a f!#&ing mastermind. The idea of a man who sat down and devoted himself to making almost five hundred unique, glorious, intertextual works of art and then put them in books all over San Francisco for people to just stumble upon -- well, I am flabbergasted. (The entire concept is such a radical way of envisioning the dissemination of art that it's completely shaken up my brain. I want to write a novel about it in which masked men do chase me over the rooftops, but that's another story.)

Finding this page was a complete and utter moment of joy. First of all, the generosity of spirit is incredible. He just gave them away. Not to his friends, or people who asked - he put them where they would be discovered by people who just happen to like books. They're gifts. "Enjoy your drawing!" his website says. I couldn't believe it - it was mine! For me! This beautiful thing! Because I liked a book he liked! A gift from a complete stranger, and yet also a moment of total, wonderful connection with the unseen hand that had placed it there for me to find.

Second, the idea of putting these paintings in books is totally stupendous. The context of the book makes the art itself more magical, and the magical art makes you look differently at the book you hold in your hands. They talk to each other. They give each other depth, a story, a new, entangled set of meanings. Especially this is true, I think, of the paintings that, like mine, hold the extra fillip of a found poem. Mine says, highlighted in golden ink:

counterfeit joy
adorned, in
flaming gold

Browsing his website for images of other paintings he left to be discovered in other books, I find:

My propensity to arms
in spite of the whole world
leads me to
vice broad and spacious.

Another, almost haiku-like:

Finding himself besieged,
he can remedy it with

Or my personal favorite:

mean, country wench
on foot or on horseback, or in whatever
manner you please
let us wait for daylight, that the sun may be
witness of our exploits
found snoring
ready to swoon
without speaking a word
we must
make splinters of one another.

I myself feel strongly that I can't hold onto this piece of art; wonderful though it is, it makes me want to put it back into the world to be found by someone else, and it's bloody well inspired me to invent some similar gifts of my own. I haven't figured out what, yet, but who knows? perhaps you'll find one.

May you, too, be so lucky as to have the unexpected madness of someone's else's art make splinters of you.

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