Written in response to Ruth Beale’s current practice, this text is an extension of a text commissioned by the South London Gallery for the Conch critical discussion forum 19/09/11.
Available to download here> RebeccaBligh_Conch_TheMatterInHand
En arkhē ēn ho Lógos
“In the beginning was the Word”; or— since the Greek word, arkhē, conveys at once beginning and commandment—“In the commandment was the Word”—and the word was Be! as in Begin!, the original commandment, en arkhē, of Judeo-Christian Creation; which, en arkhē, says Giorgio Agamben, ‘never ceases beginning; that is to say, never ceases to govern and command what it has initiated.’302
So begins the Bible (from Greek biblion, “book”, a diminutive of biblos: “papyrus, scroll”, of Semitic origin’) and humanity is called into Be!ing not long after. God models Adam as a first go, only doesn’t quite set enough aside for Eve, so that even after pinching a bit of clay off of Adam, Eve still ends up a bit smaller and has pretty much been pushed around by Adam ever since. Not exactly an auspicious start then; and sure enough, just as the first pancake so often ends up in the bin, what with all those kundalini high-jinks in the Garden of Eden and whatnot—all highly symbolic—God has soon had enough. Still, determined to try try again, plucky old God opts for a good wash and brush up, namely, the Great Flood, which only falls short of a complete tabula rasa due to one Noah, his arial fairly tuned to the divine frequency, who duly sets about building what is to be called an ark—a big boat being the only sensible receptacle receptable for anything much, after all, in a time of Big Water—in which procreative pairs of creatures are installed, as lit. arkhē-typal iterations, in significatio passiva, of the original commandment that called them into Be!ing; a living archive (also from Greek arkhē) that creation might Begin! again, according to God’s Word.
En arkhē ēn ho Lógos
A couple of prophets later, the Ten Commandments of Mosaic law are also said to have come to rest in vehicle of the same name, this time the “Ark of the Covenant”. This ark, the archetypal namesake of every chest or cabinet in which the Torah (being also the first five books of what the Christians call the Old Testament) is kept in scroll form in every synagogue, this ark is called in Hebrew Aron ha-Ḳodesh, “Holy Ark”; of which the English word “ark” (via ‘Old English ærc, from Latin arca “chest”’) is said to be an acronymic derivation.
It is also curious how phonetically akin (albeit etymologically diverse) the Hebrew word kodesh, “holy”, appears, on the page, to the Latinate “codex” ; not more than a whisky or two, shurely, and a set of ill-fitting dentures between them. While now mainly used in academic reference to manuscriptum, handwritten copies of ancient and often important texts, “codex” technically also designates any book in the technological form we have come to take for granted, i.e., any number of pages, or “leaves”, bound together between “boards”.
Indeed, it seems only right and proper that, amidst the linguistic branches of those three monotheistic traditions referred to collectively in Islam (itself included) as those of the ahl-al-Kitab, the “Peoples of the Book”; a word for “Holy” and a word for “Book” should somehow coincide. The Classical, Greco-Roman element introduced with “codex” does little to dislodge this appellation; it is of course thanks in large part to Islamic copyists and commentators that much of the Classical tradition survived at all, to seed that ‘which – a little too mystically – we refer to as the Renaissance’.
As such, it is perhaps not so surprising to find e.g., Brewster Kahle of the Internet Archive project writing of ‘a negative visceral reaction’ to the fact that ‘two of the corporations involved in major book scanning [to digital archives] have sawed off the bindings of modern books to speed the digitizing process’. Some might feel an equally visceral relief upon discovering that the Internet Archive project itself—begun precisely as a digital archive of evenly paced captures of the internet itself, or at least certain of its named “locations”—is now also compiling a parallel archive of real, haptic paper copies of those books they are also now digitising, to serve as ‘authoritative and safe cop[ies] that may be called upon in the future’. And why not; after all, digital archives are being constructed which by their very hi-tec nature need electricity to be accessed, as we sail blithely toward peak oil. Do they know something we don’t?
To archive is per se an act of faith, an investment in a future, but which one? You don’t have to go many clicks from, e.g., the Internet Archive project to find that the Svalbard Seed Vault, ark and archive, is the touchstone and analogy du jour for many actual and putative archival projects, both digital and “real”; that in the event of the end of what is often termed “civilisation”, a general commencement of gnashing and wailing, etc, “we”—and, yes, despite, or perhaps because of a rapidly changing geo-polis, it often seems a decidedly occidental “we”—might enact A Canticle for Leibowitz. That the dead might speak to, and through, the living; that we might, Lif and Lifthrasir, re-Begin!
The archival spectrum runs from “dark” to “light”. Whereas the content of a light archive is designed to be accessed, according to its own variously ex-, or inclusive stipulations, the emphatic purpose of a dark archive is preservation and storage; think like buried treasure, think time capsules, x marks the spot. For those taking the very, very long view, favoured sites to rent or purchase for archives include readymades like abandoned salt mines such as Hutchison in Kansas, where Hollywood negatives are laid to rest, ‘For security. Forever’. Seems like Dorothy and Toto are home for good now.  Any library, on the other hand, is a light archive; notwithstanding the relative miserliness or mad profligacy of its archivist-librarian, and whether, and to whom it may be permitted to touch the books; the collection is nonetheless, at least—albeit under certain conditions—available to the—or, at least, to certain—eyes.
But whose? In 1922, for example, the minute book of the First International Working Men’s Association was almost casually announced by the labour historian Raymond Postage,  in a footnote to his A Builder’s History, to be in the collection of the Bishopsgate Institute Library (Est. 1891), archived at shelfmark 331.88; and still more symbolically located, given the Bishopsgate’s location in the financial City of London. People duly came and asked for it; and when, in due course, the Library’s possession of this bona fide piece of Marxiana eventually came to the attention of the Institutes’ governors, they—and the Chair of Governors in particular, one David Andijaromain, pretty much FREAKED. Out. And locked it in a bank vault; an act of radically conservative archiving. A contemporary draft letter from Charles Goss, the Institute’s then (highly notable though not-quite-first) librarian notes ‘several applications for permission to photostat or copy the contents of the archive by Communists, particularly during the period of the Russian Trades Delegation in London’ as having been consistently refused by the Governors, who ‘latterly decided to safeguard it against such uses by lodging it in the care of their bankers’. The splinter wedged ever deeper in Capital’s maw! Even an offer by the British Museum’s Trustees (to whom this letter is addressed) to take this hot potato off their hands, while under consideration, is treated with extreme caution by the Governors, who first need to know whether ‘the volume would be made available to any and every reader and whr [sic] permission would be afforded to persons to copy or photostat the recorded minutes.’  Even so some people, it is implied, might possibly be entitled to see it; only God forbid this inflammatory—book—should set even the unwashed portion of London afire again.
The end of this very British book-fatwa came in 1941 when at the request of Churchill’s own secretary, the book was eventually released into the custody of the then Soviet Ambassador Ivan Maisky, whose wife, along with two secretaries typed the minutes out word for word as the Blitz raged around. 
As for the book itself; from the entry for the meeting of July 9th 1865, e.g., we learn that the Address of the General Council of the International Working Men’s Association, as proposed by Citizen Marx and seconded by Citizen Lefargue was unanimously adopted as ‘the first Congress resolution on the practical means, by which to enable the International Workingmen’s Association to fulfil its function of a common centre of action for the working classes, female and male, in their struggle tending to their complete emancipation from the domination of Capital.’ From the entry for July 23rd 1865 e.g., we learn of a letter received by Citizen Marx ‘from Newark announcing the affiliation of the Communist Club, which rejects all revealed religion, and every not founded on the perception of concrete objects’, and further advocates ‘the destruction of individual property, the equality of all persons, and its members bind each other to carry these maxims into practice’.
Words of power, indeed; yet even such apparent banalities as demands for rent by the Landlord of their meeting rooms (one Mr Miall), or ‘Receipts, Expenditures and Liabilities from March 29th 1865 – April 28th 1866, Balance in hand 6.38-’, hold potent secrets for the right historian, and there is something beautifully prosaic in learning, alongside e.g., the news from Switzerland that ‘The Radical Bourgeois Committee of Fleurie called upon the Radical Bourgeois Committee of La Chaud de Fonds to fight against the social democratic tendencies of the International, which tended to overthrow social order and caused hatred between different classes’ that —‘Citizen Eccarius stated that he had taken notes of the last meeting, but had left them at his house’. Between ourselves, having been restored to the public archive, the minute book itself was later subject to a greater carelessness than Eccarius’; discovered to be lost, no less, in the 1960s, upon the LSE’s applying to borrow it for an exhibition, only to be discovered 6 months later behind a box of toilet rolls. A story from the 1970s, in contrast, tells of members of the Chinese Communist Party visiting Britain ‘just to look at the Minute Book and then handing it round, and crying, and shaking—.’ How a thing may be laid low, and be raised up again.
As for the book itself, that is, the book-thing; it is so smog patinated, glazed with the grease of so many handlings that it is hard to say if it started out eggshell-bruise-grey and became blackened in places, or vice versa. Thus, as surely befits such an auratic object, it appears to be bound not in card, nor in calf, nor in goatskin, but hammered-out thunder. Inside, the arboreal bookplate boasts the motto Senesco non Segnesco: “I grow old but not rusty”.
Here, then, indeed, is the matter in hand; for what is a library—‘from Latin libraria “bookshop”, feminine (used as a noun) of librarius “relating to books,” from liber, libr- “book”’—if not a place for storing, restoring, and ordering, and in which to read book-things; at a time when books, and libraries themselves, are, it seems, beginning to de-materialise? Of course, it is not that simple; besides the librarian being already the shepherd of so many more things than books, even the virtualized, u-topic abstraction of “cloud storage” is ultimately anchored in the material topos; my data centre or yours?
And perhaps, after all, just as the word itself, “book”—from Old English bōc meaning any document or charter, said to be ‘of Germanic origin, related to Dutch boek and German Buch, and probably to beech (on which runes were carved)’— has migrated to mean “codex”, a word whose own material significance has also shifted over time; perhaps then the book is indeed a candle—one lux—one lumen, meaning, in Latin, both “opening” and “light”; one portable unit, one body of knowledge; one portal, regardless of lamp-kind, or vehicle.  And yet. I sing of the bath-dipped, the folded corner; the senseless braille-graze of pulp. 
Ah. Perhaps if we bury them deep enough…
 Or, as Jacques Derrida prefers, ‘names at once the commencement and the commandment.’ J. Derrida, Archive Fever, trans. Eric Prenowitz, University of Chicago Press 1996
 The origin of both of these words is said to be Old English; the English verb be, from the OE verb bēon is said in turn to derive ‘from an Indo-European root shared by Latin fui “I was,” fio “I become” and Greek phuein “bring forth, cause to grow” (Oxford American English Dictionary (OAED) 2011).
 OAED 2011
 Via ‘Greek arkheia “public records”, from arkhē [here said to signify] “government”’, cf. our “commandment” (ibid). OAED 2011
 OAED 2011
 N.B. in English, aside from its specific use for the container of the Torah, the word “ark”, while in archaic general use for “chest”, or box, etc, only serves as a word for “boat” or similar if said vehicle’s purpose is to save x from extinction; cf. the spaceship in John Carpenter’s 1973 film Darkstar.
 “Codex”, 16th. C in origin, is said rather to derive from the Latin caudex, meaning lit. “a block of wood”; later (caudex) coming to mean a block split into tablets on which to inscribe (perhaps in wax rather than directly on wood) perhaps e.g., laws and statutes (cf. contemporary “codicil”, etc). Just as it might be imagined that a set of codices, i.e., a collection of wooden tablets stacked together might well resemble a tree-trunk, the noun caudex is still used in botany to mean ‘the axis of a woody plant, esp. a palm or tree fern, comprising the stem and root’ (OAED 2011). Also, though it is not known to me whether the contemporary consensus on the Germanic/OE etymology of the word ‘book’ and its probable relation to “beech [wood]”, as used for the inscription of runes (see also footnote no. 38) would have been known to our 16th C scholars, it accords with the Latin. Besides this direct derivation of “codex”, it is also the case, rich in mildly punning coincidence, that while the 16th C. books were likely made of rag-, and not wood-pulp paper, many incunables (early printed books made before 1500 AD) and post-incunables alike were either printed in their entirety, or illustrated, with the technique of wood-cuts. We might also imagine a glancing resemblance to the Biblical Tree of Knowledge; the “old block” which each book is a “chip off” of.
 Such as the Codex Sinaticus, e.g., containing ‘the oldest complete copy of the New Testament’. http://codexsinaiticus.org/en/codex/
 Technically, ‘page’ denotes either face of a leaf, whether recto (right) or (left) verso.
 Aby Warburg, cited in Gertrud Bing, FRITZ SAXL A Biographical Memoir, Warburg Institute (2nd Ed.) 1998 p.5.
 (though the use and usefulness of spacial metaphors for the internet is disputed, vs. talk of “flow”; cf. e.g., Ryan Trecartin’s Riverthe.net project, discussed here: http://www.artfagcity.com/2010/10/05/afc-exclusive-artist-ryan-trecartin-debuts-riverthe-net/
 Though maybe not so “haptic”, i.e., “touchable” as all that, as it is proposed that these books may be stored in a dark archive (see below).
 For a couple of cheerful but divergent examples cf. Michael Chabon’s article on the Long Now Foundation, “The Omega Glory” here: http://longnow.org/about/ versus e.g. Franco “Bifo” Berardi’s “Post-Futurist Manifesto”, here: http://www.generation-online.org/p/fp_bifo5.htm.
Along with e.g., joking-not-joking links to “field dressing a deer” Cf. Alexander Rose, April 6th, 02010 http://blog.longnow.org/2010/04/06/manual-for-civilization/
 cf. e.g. Brewster Zahle’s article, cited above, and Kevin Kelly’s “The Library of Utility”, April 25th, 02011 http://blog.longnow.org/2011/04/25/the-library-of-utility/ both in the thread labelled “Digital Dark Ages”
 Cf. Alexander Rose, April 6th, 02010 http://blog.longnow.org/2010/04/06/manual-for-civilization/
 Cf. e.g.: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jun/17/sex-selection-rise-generation-xy
 A novel by Walter M. Miller Jr, First Ed. J. B. Lippincott & Co. (1960), about post-apocalyptic scholar-monks in the desert outside Utah who archive, reverence, and attempt to decipher both ecclesiastical and techno-scientific literature
 Lif = Old Norse ‘life’, and Lifthrasir, “striving after life”, or ‘thriving remnant’ are the couple who, as the sole survivors of Ragnarök, come out from their hiding place, ‘Hoddmímis holt’ to repopulate a “New Eden”. (Rudolf Simek, trans. Angela Hall, Dictionary of Northern Mythology (2007)). ‘Hoddmímis holt’ is understood to either signify a wood or a forest, or an alternate name for Yggdrasil, the “world tree” (Carolyne Larrington (Trans.) The Poetic Edda, Oxford World Classics 1999). Either way, this accords with Norse creation myth wherein the first humans, Ask and Embla, are created from two trees. Jesse Byock (Trans.) The Prose Edda, Penguin 2006). The connection between Svalbard, Lif and Lifthrasir was made before me by Mat Paskins and Liz Haines at “The Broadcast Trials”, perfomed at the Southwark Physic Garden, 4th August 2011
 http://www.undergroundvaults.com/index.php/about-us/hutchinson/ I imagine the hieroglyphics on pharonic junk mail would read much like this.
 father of Oliver Postgate, the creator of Bagpuss and the Clangers, spaced-out TV puppet shows beloved of British stoners everywhere and ex-children of a certain age
 Which houses ‘world-renowned collections on London history, labour and socialist history, freethought and humanism, co-operation, and protest and campaigning.’ http://www.bishopsgate.org.uk/content.aspx?CategoryID=964&ArticleID=1548&fp=1
 Where it may be found at present, cross-archived as “Howell 13”, as it came to the library as part of the personal archive of the George Howell, MP for North Bethnal Green who attended the FIWA and took some of those minutes himself.
 I am informed by Stefan Dickers, the present Head Archivist, that Goss’s predecessor at Bishopsgate, though a philanthropic sort of fellow in principle, recently come down from Oxbridge perhaps, swiftly found himself unequal to daily immersion in the actual presence of the London Poor. Goss, on the other hand came to Bishopsgate from the Lewisham Library where, as the first librarian, he had had a Falling Out of some description (and where I, dear Reader, some three quarters of a century later, would read, borrow and fail to return books on time as a child. In 2011 I note the borough of Lewisham, otherwise chiefly famous for not having a statue of Spike Milligan, announced the closure of no less than five of its public libraries).
 CWF Goss amended by FJ Williams Esq., of the Bishopsgate Foundation; held in the Bishopsgate Institute Library, as part of the collective holding 331.88
 whose course and related correspondences are now archived with the book itself which may now be consulted by anyone who wants it, during opening hours
 It was published by a Soviet English language press in the 1950s.
 …listing items such as:
Annual Subscriptions Arbeiter Bilderung
Germany for Doctor Marx
Shoemakers Ladies West End
Subscription for German Congress
Subscribed by Members of the Council at their last Meeting previous to the Deputations dipature [sic] for Geneva
 Caution; this is how the mania for archiving EVERYTHING begins…
 Stefan Dickers, Head Archivist, Bishopsgate Institute Library 2009
 of the Bishopsgate Institute ,‘Founded 1891, Opened 1894’.
 There is little doubt that the front and back boards have been razored off the original binding and pasted onto this shiny new embossed spine by some state-of-the-art conservator worth their personal salt—weighed out in gold or feathers regardless—for this act of pasting-back alone (though according to today’s reverential mores, they should probably never have cut in at all) for in so doing they have saved the doodles done on the back board. Of the kind formerly found upon the item formerly known as a “telephone pad” (or really anywhere where there are paper, pens, waiting and listening) these include a corseted woman in profile, done by someone who either couldn’t, or forgot to draw arms; another, Caesarean profile, and a yawning caricature or gargoyle, also side on. There are also a couple of umbellate circles, like bicycle wheels; one is boxed in to a rectangle, almost making a Union flag of it; and a there are a number of rimless asterisks, seeds floating airborne.
 OAED 2011
 In the technical sense, from the Greek, indicating “not [of] place”, “placeless”
 See my footnote no.7, above
 OAED 2011
 OAED 2011
 Or potable, even; for Arthur Conan-Doyle not even a horse-trough, when blessed by literature, could fail to open the magic door a chink. The trough in question is one opposite his house which he feels would be much uplifted and made edifying by a verse of Coleridge’s The Ancient Mariner. (A. Conan Doyle, Through The Magic Door, Smith, Elder & Co, London 1912).
 Read this as Deleuze & Guattarian as you like; this body is not necessarily “organized” in the G.Deleuzian sense; it may even be networked and/or open in some significant ways but I am not going to use the word rhizome here and you can’t make me.
 ‘the book is a candle, not an oil lamp. One lux’. From Aphrodite’s Left Turn (FormContent, 2010), co-authored with Sam Dowd, Isabel Waidner, Ben Cain, Naoko TakaHashi; the idea put forward here (channelling Frederick Kiesler) is that the book is an enduring technology, like the wheel; never to become, like the oil-lamp, an obsolescent one. In this text, however, I am questioning the total identification of “book” with the bound paper form called a “codex”.
 …of the buckled, water-marked Penguin paperback of Gide’s The Immoralist that, somehow, pocketed, made it with me through a typhoon; only less the front cover, which first turned to mush and then mildewed. So fragile, books; yet not so fragile, yet. Scissors, paper, stone.