Entanglement – in Many Dimensions

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.

[Image Description: the front and back covers of Entanglements, a poetry chapbook written by Rae Armantrout. On the front, a green mandala is centered on a white cover. In the middle of the mandala, the word “Entanglements” appears in green lettering. The name “Rae Armantrout” is written in the bottom left corner in green lettering, with the surname “Armantrout” bolded. On the back cover, a smaller green mandala is in the center of the cover. It is surrounded by a series of lines and circles like that found in a computer. In the top, the word “poetry” appears in simple green lettering.]

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.

[Image Description: three pages of poetry from Entanglements. The first picture shows two pages laid side-by-side, while the second picture shows only the left side of the next set of pages. All the pages are printed with black ink in a “Calibri”-type font. The font used for the title of the poem “Inscriptions” is gray and is printed in an all-caps style. The pages are not numbered.]

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.

Works Cited

Armantrout, Rae. Entanglements. Middletown, CT, Wesleyan University Press, 2017.

Borsuk, Amaranth. The Book. Cambridge, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 2018.

3 thoughts on “Entanglement – in Many Dimensions”

  1. I love the idea of the Entanglement of language and medicine, like you just hinted at in your post, and I think that this is an ancient concept. Like we read in “The Cult of Books”, words have often been seen as holding physical power. I wonder how much of Armantrout’s experiences with physics was affected by the mere language he used to learn it.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I like how you make a unique distinction between how modern chapbooks are produced on printing presses, but they nonetheless maintain the separation of “the idea of the book from the object.” Your description of the layout of Entanglements is written perfectly. I love the language you use to describe its fundamental composition because it brings your blog post to life. I also found that your description of the design quite relatable to this week’s accordion lab, specifically when you state that the book’s structure is intentional and it purposefully entangles traditional notions of “literature,” “art,” and “science” together.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Really observant, insightful read of the chapbook as entangled form via Armantrout’s Entanglements. This book is a favorite of mine, and you actually draw my attention to things that I hadn’t noticed: “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.” Gorgeous work on this blog post.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s