Modern chapbooks, such as Rae Armantrout’s Entanglements, challenge the divorce of the book as object from the book as content by inextricably linking text and design to create a unified book entity. Though they are produced on a printing press, like a more conventional book, they nevertheless resist the separation of “the idea of the book from the object,” a separation that is often proliferated by the very act of printing (Borsuk 76). Entanglements is merely one example of a chapbook that blurs the induced divisions between object and idea. In the author’s note, Armantrout writes that the book is called Entanglements “not only for the baffling way two particles can become entangled so that they appear to communicate instantaneously, but also because of the way my daily life experiences and emotions became entangled…with what I was learning about physics” (Armantrout 1). The chapbook explores the intersection between science and humanities, but so too does its form as chapbook explore the intersection between the book object and the book content.
The layout of Entanglements underscores its goal. At the surface level, the book’s entanglement is how it blends science with humanistic disciplines such as philosophy and art. The computer-feeling paper, sharply capitalized titles, and Calibri-type font are all reminiscent of the sciences, while the mandalas on the front and back covers introduce an artistic element to the book’s design. Of course, the mandalas themselves are also entanglements, demonstrating wordlessly just how interconnected everything around us truly is. Yet, the back cover is even more of an entanglement than the front cover, as it expands the focus out from the mandala into the combination of mandala, computer-type design, and the simple word “poetry.” The green color on the cover introduces natural and scientific themes, but this green is neatly mixed into the overall cover design.
Moreover, the simple binding brings all the pages together (rather than creating different bunches of pages). This simplicity once more unites the sciences and humanities. Clearly, then, the book’s design is quite intentional and one that purposefully entangles traditional notions of “literature,” “art,” and “science” together, much like its content also does.
The book’s text is infused with the entanglement between disciplines with which Armantrout was especially fascinated. On page 20, for example, Armantrout writes that “metaphor is homeopathy,” combining language with medicine, while the poem “Inscription” questions what it means to be human in its lines “as if you / could become another person / by setting off / an automatic / cascade of responses / in his/her body” (Armantrout 21-2). These lines are particularly fascinating. Their shortness calls to mind a series of computer code, as does the slash between “his” and “her,” almost as if the poem is providing a programming input. So, too, however, does the placement of the page break (and might this placement be intentional?) yanks readers out of the self-contained world of the poem, reminding them that they are guests within a book.
As poetry that addresses philosophical questions, the science beneath the poems is not made explicit. Instead, it is buried beneath a web of entanglements that are present in both the text and the book object.
At the broadest level, a chapbook itself entangles notions of what a book “is” and “should be” by crafting an object that is both like conventional codices and also markedly different from them, all while including text like that found in a traditional book. A chapbook is at once at home with larger, more traditional codices – as it is made in the same general style – and yet is also a form of active resistance against the standardization of books. The chapbook calls to mind the fervor of printing and reading through both form and content, pushing out content as easily as possible while also remaining decidedly intentional in both layout and content. Thus, the chapbook format of Entanglements is itself a form of entanglement. The book purposefully entangles tradition with resistance, science with humanities, and design with content.
Armantrout, Rae. Entanglements. Middletown, CT, Wesleyan University Press, 2017.
Borsuk, Amaranth. The Book. Cambridge, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 2018.