Occasional musings, Geistesblitze, photos, drawings etc. by a "resident alien", who has landed on American soil from a far-away planet called "Germany".

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Word of the Month: Buchschmuck

Word of the Month: Index

We know by now that a Buch is a book. Schmuck means "jewelry", both the precious stuff you possess and the stuff you use to accessorize your person. The Schmuck in Buchschmuck is of the second kind: It's the sum of the graphical elements that have been added to a book's pages to enhance the status of the book as an artifact—the decoration of the title page; the special treatment of the first letters of a chapter etc. These features are not to be confused with illustrations intended to support the text—they have a practical purpose, Buchschmuck has not, in the narrow sense. It does not contribute to our understanding of the text, but it may contribute significantly to our enjoyment of the book as an object—it makes it more precious. I show, as an example, on the left the title pages of the edition of the Grimms' fairy tales that motivated me, in second grade, to teach myself the old-fashioned font called Fraktur in German.

I must confess that I have not seen the term Buchschmuck used in a long time. It sounds old-fashioned, harking back to a time when books were objects that could be considered precious. Are these days gone? Or, to put it differently, could eBooks have Buchschmuck? More generally, could they become carefully-crafted objects to be appreciated as such? I see no reason, in principle, why they couldn't.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Wagner Heralds the Arrival of May

If April is the cruellest month, May is the loveliest, at least for those who— like my wife and I—were born in it. This is how Siegmund rapturously celebrates its onset (and his re-unification with his twin sister, Sieglinde) in the first act of Die Walküre (The Valkyrie), the second opera in Wagner's Ring Cycle:
Winterstürme wichen dem Wonnemond.
In mildem Lichte leuchtet der Lenz...

Winter storms gave way to the Month of Joy.
Spring glows in a soft light...
The link I'm giving above is to a concert version—I didn't like the staged versions I found on YouTube because I did not like the staging (or the tenor's knödeln—seeming to press and sing through his nose). Instead, I show below part of the panel depicting the scene in P. Craig Russell's graphic retelling of the opera.

[Source: P. Craig Russell, The Ring of the Nibelung, Volume One, 2002. © P. Craig Russell. Used by permission]