Sunday, July 27, 2008

Science in the Age of God

The work of Joel Smock is, at first glance, self-contradicting.
It stands outside of time much like a pastiche of a Celtic illuminated manuscript. One gets the feeling that these books are somehow eternal.

In the tradition of western religious texts, the illuminated manuscript had a much greater meaning in society than a simple book does today. Few people were literate and few were wealthy enough to own books, which required great time and skill to copy out by hand. Books, to the common man, were mystical objects; somehow sustaining the thoughts and words of the soul long after the death of the body. They were the element by which God manifested the world. They were something apart from the corporeal, some immortalizing abstract force.

But after the printing press was invented in Guttenberg, books became amazingly easy to reproduce and were disseminated throughout the world. Their mystical appeal decreased as their availability increased.

The anachronism of Smock's handmade work is particularly pronounced today in the digital age, where copying a document or image requires nothing more than the click of a mouse and a few seconds of your time. Oddly, Smock's texts somehow are able to transmogrify their contemporary content into the universal realm of ideals. Through this counter-intuitive contrast with our digital age, and because of their tactility, their physical presence demonstrates the platonic realm of ideas more readily than the abstract collection of zeros and one's floating in the invisible void that is the Internet - though, these too are composed solely of numerical sequences.

The feeling one gets as one weighs each leather-bound volume in hand is the haunting sensation of some Nostradamus-like monk peering back at you through time, completely aware of your contemplation. Cloaked in the darkness of the past, he prophesied the coming of the age of information and recorded his vision here. A vision of science in the age of God.

Because the creator took such time and care to create these endless volumes, one feels that within lies some message of great importance. Yet, perhaps the most striking fact is the utter impossibility of comprehending this message, which appears to be encrypted in painstakingly written numerical sequences. I am reminded of a short story by Jorge Luis Borges, entitled The Library of Babel, in which every possible combination of the alphabet is included in nearly infinite volumes in a nearly infinite library. Within each volume may lie nothing but a collection of jumbled letters, the story of your life (including your future demise), and absolutely every other possible novel, in every language using this alphabet and every encrypted possibility. Sadly, though all truth may be held somewhere within the walls of this library, the potential of finding such truth is practically nill within one's lifetime.

Yet, in our present age we believe no knowledge to be beyond our grasp, no truth beyond our search, no stone too heavy to lift. We believe our powers of science and technology so vast, that relative to the individual they are infinite. Numerology, mathematics, geometry... these are the gods of the age of science. And their truths may or may not be encrypted here.

If you have the time to search.