Beneath the surface

MARSHALL – While most people go about their day interacting obliviously with ordinary objects, Joseph Amato pauses to look beneath the surface. He really thinks about everything on and around us – skin, walls and windows – and notes their history and makeup.

“Did you know that our eyes grew out of our skin? They’re concentrated skin,” said Amato, a prolific author and history professor emeritus at Southwest Minnesota State University.

Amato gave a talk Wednesday at the SMSU library in the afternoon and at the Marshall-Lyon Country Library in the evening as part of events libraries are sponsoring during National Library Week.

Amato talked about his recently-published book, “Surfaces: A History” – “there’s something deep about surfaces,” he said – and about books in general.

“A book is a portable set of surfaces,” he said.

Amato said he has taken five years to write a book and has an extensive library in his basement on the subject at hand before he is done.

“Writing a book is an occasion to go mad,” he said.

Amato said he started thinking about surfaces after writing his book, “On Foot: A History of Walking.” He began thinking about what was being walked on and then extrapolated that to everything around us – natural surfaces and things we have created.

“Everywhere you look you will see surfaces,” he said. “We are emerged in a heterogeneous world of surfaces – they are not homogeneous. The world is an infinity of heterogeneous surfaces. Once you’ve known one surface, you don’t know them all.”

Amato said surfaces don’t remain the same.

“All surfaces exist in time – they change,” he said.

Humans have been profoundly affected by surfaces.

“Learning to make a biface tool rearranged our brains,” he said.