Sunday, December 14, 2008
You have landed here either by chance or by suggested link. In either case, please contact me with your reactions and additions. We will not add anything more to the blog, but it does represent a history of texts in relation to media technologies. These last posts -- that appear first -- focus on the book as it changes.
Friday, December 12, 2008
Here are some photos of the book I made. It's a condensed version of the course, broken down into four main sections ala Walter Ong.
The cover opens up two vertical French doors that contain information on the two earliest eras of human communication and graphic design: oral culture and chirographic/ manuscript culture.
Then, in order to allow space for the major areas we addressed, the next two sections open in a dos-a-dos fashion to provide information on print culture compared to digital culture.
The book's wallpaper is made from the condensed print of words and ideas found on our blog, the strips are glued one on top of the other to represent an immersion into the conversation.
The book's cover is decorated with a title: History of T & T. Running down the left side is the list of dates of publications on our blog. Across the bottom is the url for our blog.
My plan was to make a neatly folded souvenir from our time spent together in the course -- sort of a party favor. Thanks for coming to the party.
The book is a technology that appears in various configurations. For example, Keith A. Smith reasons that “the 'print' comes together only in the viewer's mind. This is the manner in which any codex is read. Unlike the fan, blind and fold book, in the codex the total is seen after the fact” (69). His own experimental books include a design that unfolds in a snake-like fashion. Few will argue that the book can be divorced from the range of physical activities called reading, which are not merely motions of the eyes but involve the whole body (Rothenberg; McCaffery and bpNichol; Young). The danger is to reduce the psychological, psychosemantic, and physical characteristics of the page to a calculus of efficiency, what Johanna Drucker describes as the market oriented vision of editors “whose aesthetics are meant to guarantee the value of the product, not necessarily realize an original work “(379). Using the language of late capitalist consumption, Steve McCaffery and bpNichol proclaim that “plot is product within linguistic wrapping” and books, therefore, can be viewed as machines for delivering plot, just as cigarettes are considered drug delivery devices for nicotine. This suggests two directions narrative may take and with it the fate of the book: “one rooted in oral tradition and the typographic 'freezing' of speech; the other set in an awareness of the page as a visual, tactile unit with its own very separate potential” (20). While the codex form of the book has changed little in Western societies since the invention of letterpress printing apart from technical advances improving its function of delivering content, anthropological and ethnopoetic investigations have revealed a variety of ways the page has been experienced throughout the centuries. Jerome Rothenberg comments, “there is a primal book as there is a primal voice, and it is the task of our poetry and art to recover it - in our minds and in the world at large” (11). The Russian poet Velimir Khlebnikov sings of “The One, the Only Book”: “whose pages are enormous oceans/ flickering like the wings of a blue butterfly,/ and the silk thread marking the place/ where the reader rests his gaze; is all the great rivers in a dark-blue flood” (201). Karl Young describes the curious, iconographic book form of the Aztecs in Mexico prior to the Spanish conquest that “was not a set of symbols telling readers what to say, but a tool that allowed them to see what they heard” (30). Screenfold format books collected in the Codex Borgia and Codex Vienna were components in the Aztec cultural and religious practices, but not as mnemonic devices for retrieving encoded speech, but more like accompaniments to it. Henry Munn credits the “unique power of activating the configurative activity of human signification” of psilocybin use by the ancient Mexicans for creating this type of writing, noting the similarly to Freud's notion that dreams are structured like hieroglyphs (253). Nor was the written Chinese of the eighth century merely a representation of sound. Each character in this mixed system of pictograms, phonograms and ideograms had a history behind it, and that was the most important characteristic, Young writes, according to Arthur Cooper, “a mind trained to read interwoven pictograms, graphs of gestures, phonograms, and ideograms can be expected to feel a continuity between sight, sound, gesture, and intellection” (33).
Deliberate experiments of poets and book artists continue to explore the varieties of reading. F. T. Marinetti wrote a “Techinal Manifesto of Futurist Literature” in 1912 that focused on the lack of awareness of that the “various means of communication, transportation and information have a decisive influence on [people's] psyches” (178), a theme that would be taken up much later by Marshall McLuhan. Literary historians identify the Futurist, Cubist, Dadaist movements in Europe at the beginning of the twentieth century as highly influential to poets like Ezra pound, who saw, according to Michael Davidson, “the page could become more than an occasion for decorative printing but rather a generative element of meaning“ (71). The poetry of Gertrude Stein, such as her 1914 “Book” from Tender Buttons; objects, food, rooms, while often described as “stream of consciousness,” is better understood as an awareness of the page as such; in Jerome McGann's words, “the composition of the page is its explanation” (244). Her work is said to have transformed Robert Carlton Brown's approach to the page. His 'optical poems', such as “Eyes on the Half-Shell,” are designed, McGann argues, “immerse the reader in the print medium, much as the viewer is immersed in images at the cinema” (237), culminating in his “Readies” project that was a hypothetical machine delivering text in a mechanically controllable fashion forwards, backwards, at variable speeds. Like Charles Babbages' Analytical Engine, Brown's Readies, while not implemented until the age of electronic media - similar to Vannevar Bush's famous Memex idea - inspired new ways of presenting and organizing texts, such as Brown's own anthology Readies for Bob Brown's Machine. As the twentieth century progressed, many very creative works combining poetry and other arts emerged, including Concrete Poetry, which Davidson describes as “a more directly visual poetry that stressed the physical properties of letters and the technologies of printing” that “explores not only the iconic and spatial features of letters but also their capacity for semantic indeterminacy“ (75-76). A piece such as Bob Cobbing's Worm is a typographic collage of fuzzy, barely legible squiggles resembling worms composed by overstriking typewriter characters. William Everson has complained that the typewriter, while it empowered the poet to be his own typesetter, also led to chaos. “Everything goes the way of the eye and the contact with the ear is lost. But, poetry begins with the ear, the tongue and the ear. The eye is for the printer.” (52). But the connection to song is still present, remediated by these typographically inspired visual forms. Mac Low's hand-written “Vocabulary Gatha for Pete Rose” is a gridded composition that includes detailed instructions for performance by a singers or musicians.
Returning from the materiality of the page to the book as a whole, and the art of printing, critics often differentiate novelty books, book art, illustrated books and fine print editions, and finally artists' books. Martha L. Carothers surveys the history of “pages or pictures that fold out, revolve, slide, move, slat-dissolve, pop up, or are die-cut in special shapes” that characterize novelty books, pointing out their long history (319). An early example is Jacob Leupold's Theatrum Arithmetico Geometricum (Leipzig, 1727), which includes a volvelle (movable disc) for aiding the reader in making calculations. She also notes that children's books were originally novelty books that slowly became more acceptable as attitudes toward education shifted. Some novelty books include very complex mechanisms and effects, although the division of labor between writing, illustration, and book design by publishers yields an “assembly-line system of trade publishing runs counter to the creativity and unity of idea and form that occur when artists work together” (328). Johanna Drucker takes pains to differentiate what she calls artists' from fine print, deluxe editions, and the illustrated books created by famous artists, the livre d'artiste of Bonnard, Matisse, Ernst, etc. The defining characteristic of artists' books, for which Ed Ruscha's Twenty-six Gasoline Stations is often used as an exemplar of the form, is that “it is a book which integrates the formal means of its realization and production with its thematic or aesthetic issues” (376). She argues that this self-reflexive awareness that pervades the entire work is a unique innovation to the twentieth century, like Freudian psychoanalysis. Jerome McGann gives a detailed analysis of how Ezra Pound integrated narrative and the material form of the book in his Cantos project: “the voyage of Odysseus is a matter of linguistic translation and book production” (231). The quintessential artist's book of the recent times is Tom Phillips' Humument, a curious work that overlays the text of W. H. Mallock's A Human Document with solid colors and artwork to reveal a new text in the words remaining visible, a process he describes as “a book exhumed from, rather than born out of, another .. [with] deliberate parallels with the Hypnerotomachia Polophili, the most beautiful of printed books, published in Venice in 1499” (425-426). A curious example of book art that was designed, according to John Cayley, to “subvert all lexical meaning” while otherwise embodying all the other trademarks of the book's cultural authority in its manufacture and presentation is Xu Bing's Tianshu. He author carved a set of thousands of characters that appear to be Chinese, but really are meaningless, and then carefully printed and bound many volumes of feigned compositions. Cayley claims that Xu Bing “intended to expose the meaninglessness, the bankruptcy and boredom of traditional Chinese culture,” although to “when displayed in the West, his work reads as an exhibition of the traditional Chinese book” (500). Considering the fate of the book, we have traversed a space from the intense desire of Futurists like Marinetti approach “the sonorous but abstract expression of an emotion or a pure thought” (185) to the complete evacuation of meaning in the symbols, as in Tianshu, to demonstrate “how the extralexical serves to create undeniable and absorbing meanings” (501).
Note: all citation page references refer to Rothenberg, Jerome and Clay, Steven. 2000. A Book of the Book: Some Works and Projections about the Book and Writing. New York City: Granary Books.
An Experimental Book: “Huge Books that are Underwater Read by Divers”
It is a giant underwater ribbon of recycled garbage arranged to be read by divers over many years using flashlights that project three dimensionally on the surrounding particles suspended in the water (BS&W is the technical term from petroleum engineering, not sure what the oceanographic term is even though I had an oceanography course in college). You can read what is woven and otherwise inscribed onto the fabric of the huge text itself, or view the image shimmering around you.
This book is like a Moebius strip or a continuous sheet like the old cloth towels wound like typewriter ribbon you used to find in restrooms to dry your hands. Floating, suspended in the water both sides are legible. Out of habit I divided it into a sequence of pages, like large computer display screens or an infinite Escher-like Turing Machine tape. Consider the clustering concept that Michael Heim describes in Electric Language: a four foot by five foot paper sheet that is beyond the scale of any imaginable computer display in the 1980s - the 'pages' of this book are larger still. That is why one of the divers exclaims, It's going to take me 10 years to read this!
Reading tied to swimming underwater instead of playing dead on dry land. At first it seems very unnatural, but once staying still to read seemed odd, too. Marcel O'Gorman plays on this idea with his Dreadmill.
Blocks out sound and other visual distractions. The aural effect of submersion reflects on Walter Ong's distinction between the all-aboutness of sound for speaking versus the singular locus of vision for reading.
Just as the Kindle is being promoted as a 'green' environmentally sound reading device, this huge underwater ribbon will be woven from garbage floating in the oceans today, by robots or specially trained sea creatures. Over many decades as the books are slowly 'written', trash will turn into treasure. It is the reversal of the destruction of nature by the side effects of literacy, if you are like Ong and credit the rise of modern science and industry to literacy and print.
Sorry I missed you last night. Hope all went well. Follow the link below to view my assignment 4 and experimental book description.
Have a happy and restful break! See you next semester! :)