Assignments

Blog Post #1 (due Wednesday, 9/8)

ERIK DESMAZIÈRES, LIBRARY OF BABEL.

This post is a response to the assigned essay, “On the Cult of Books” (1951) by Jorge Luis Borges. Choose one of the following options. Option 1) Borges connects the rise of the book to the development of silent reading and, by extension, to the concept of sacred silence. Read a page of the essay out loud, and then read the same page silently. Be attentive to the difference between the two experiences—what changes, in your relationship with the text? What is the difference between the vocalization in your mind and your vocalization out loud? Go back in time: what makes the “strange art of silent reading” so strange? Should books —or certain books, in certain contexts —be read out loud or silently? Why? In your answer, respond to St. Augustine’s comments quoted in the essay. 

Option 2) Grab hold of one conception of the book mentioned in the essay—either from the period dominated by orality or by writing (e.g., Gallileo’s metaphor of the universe as a book, Mallarme’s notion of the world existing to “end up in a book,” Plato’s idea of the book that doesn’t respond to questions, or the conception of Francis Bacon or the Jewish Kabbalists, etc.). Use Google to chase that reference down, or just sit and think hard about it. Expand on, interrogate, and bring your own example/s to, that idea of the book.     

Blog post #2

These vertical accordion books recall scrolls. “A LAPSE, A FOLD, A FIELD” (108” x 300” x 8”). Copyright 2019, Nicole Pietrantoni (https://www.nicole-pietrantoni.com/#/lapsefoldfield)

Choose any moment in the history of the book’s form (from chapter 1), and following Borsuk’s lead, further explore the relationship between form and content. Do some additional online research, browse images and databases online. Can you find a contemporary artist who plays with the pleasures and constraints of this form now? If so, who, and how? If not, how might a contemporary book artist play with this form?  Again, posts should be responsive: engage the reading by quoting/paraphrasing, online textual sources (link), and images (post, caption, credit).

Blog post #3

A mess of chapbooks I grabbed for class today

Write a short review of your chosen chapbook, and pay equal attention to text and form. Analyze and discuss the text, but also the paper, design, cover, size, folding, binding, typeface, manner of printing, etc. Your main purpose will be to explore how content dances with form? Be sure to include the photographs, a citation of your book, and internally cited page numbers for quotes. Be observant, descriptive, and analytical—but casual, you know?

Blog post #4

Having explored some of the books on the Women’s Studio Workshop online artist book repository, choose one book to discuss (using the language we have been developing) in a blog post.

Creative/Critical Response #1

The Philosopher’s Stone, 1992, Barbara Fahrner and Daniel Kelm. Cardboard, steel pins, colored ink, pencil, watercolor, approximately 6 × 8 × 6 in. The Getty Research Institute, 94-B18918. © Barbara Fahrner and Daniel E. Kelm.

Choose one of the book objects you have produced in your studio work, or make a new book object that incorporates some of those techniques–or others. Your object does not even necessarily need to be crafted from paper and string; it can incorporate found materials, for example. Be creative. Play around with the concept of the book, and feel free to stretch it in some way, if you like.

Photograph it from a few angles.

Then, in a 400- to 500-word discussion of your book, address the following points:

  1. How is your object a “book”? (Or maybe: how is it a “non book, anti book, pseudo book, quasi book, concrete book, visual book, conceptual book, structure book”; cf. Carrión).
  2. Reflect on your choice of materials. How do they reflect that the world that you live in/what is available to you?
  3. How does your object anticipate the desires of your imagined reader? Who is your imagined/desired reader?
  4. Discuss the language/text and its relationship to all of the above.

Use the Borsuk as the theoretical/critical foundation for your response, and directly quote from it at least twice, as needed. Also draw from “The New Art of Making Books,” (which Borsuk discusses in “The Book as Idea”) by Ulises Carrión. You may bring in other sources as well.

Excursion Response: Carnegie Library Zine Collection

“Cover of Poetree” by Jen Pilles (2007). Care of the Solidarity! Revolutionary Center and Radical Library.

Zines present a fascinating, rich case of independent publishing at its most independent. They illustrate what book artist/poet/visual theorist Johanna Drucker calls a “democratic multiple”: copies inexpensively produced and distributed outside of the legitimizing editorial system and bookstore market. How did the zines that you saw reflect the freedoms–and perhaps constraints–of this “fringe” space? In what ways did the zines play with/riff off/rip off/subvert the look, feel, and manner of traditional, commercial publications? In the archive, what was something particularly fun or interesting that grabbed your attention? Finally, how might we define “publication,” in zine-land? How does “publication” in this space differ from commercial publication in terms of the experience of the writer and reader? Begin to speculate: What does the indie poetry world have in common with zines, and what is different?

Excursion Response: Meshwork Press

Saint Vincent College students at Meshwork Press, Wilkinsburg, PA, September 11, 2019. © Michelle Gil-Montero.

In this response, consider the following passage by 20th century writer Anaïs Nin

“The relationship to handcraft is a beautiful one. You are related bodily to a solid block of metal letters, to the weight of the trays, to the adroitness of spacing, to the tempo and temper of the machine. You acquire some of the weight and solidity of the metal, the strength and power of the machine. Each triumph is a conquest by the body, fingers, muscles. You live with your hands, in acts of physical deftness.
You pit your faculties against concrete problems. The victories are concrete, definable, touchable. A page of perfect printing. You can touch the page you wrote. We exult in what we master and discover. Instead of using one’s energy in a void, against frustrations, in anger against publishers, I use it on the press, type, paper, a source of energy. Solving problems, technical, mechanical problems. Which can be solved.
If I pay no attention, then I do not lock the tray properly, and when I start printing the whole tray of letters falls into the machine. The words which first appeared in my head, out of the air, take body. Each letter has a weight. I can weigh each word again, to see if it is the right one.
I use soap boxes as shelves, to hold tools, paper, inks. I arrive loaded with old rags for the press, old towels for the hands, coffee, sugar.
[…]
The press mobilized our energies, and is a delight. At the end of the day you can see your work, weigh it. It is done. It exists.

[…]
The writing is often improved by the fact that I live so many hours with a page that I am able to scrutinize it, to question the essential words. In writing, my only discipline has been to cut out the unessential. Typesetting is like film cutting. The discipline of typesetting and printing is good for the writer.”

from The Diary of Anais Nin, Vol. 3: 1939-1944 (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1971).

What, if anything, did your first experience with the letterpress reveal to you about the process (and perhaps the poetics) of typesetting? Why, do you suppose, a number of small poetry presses continue to hold onto the art of letterpress? Speak from your experience at Meshwork.

Excursion Response: Pressing On

I hope that the screening and subsequent conversation has sparked some thinking about the letterpress printer’s attention to the object (down to the individual letter and space) of word, page, and ultimately, book. Given the physicality, malleability, and the DIY roll-up-your-sleeves work ethic of letterpress, it is not surprising that small publishers of poetry have gravitated to the craft. Poet Katherine Case captures the pull of letterpress from a poet-publisher’s perspective:

“There is no better way to get to know another person’s poem than to set it in type and print it by hand. The other great thing that drew me to printmaking and letterpress printing is the medium’s combination of the industrial and the artistic— the hum and click of a Vandercook press, the greasy, inky smell of metal type and that lovely, decisive feeling one gets gouging a linoleum block. … I think of my poetry as something that exists in my head. Writing is a method for me to process and understand the world, so the more I write the more calm and balanced I feel. Printmaking, on the other hand, is a craft, and it exists in my body. The process of observing nature and then creating a linoleum cut or a typographical composition is a physical process, and the more I do it the more I feel present in this moment and this place.”

Harriet Staff, “Ploughshares Announces A New Letterpress” (The Poetry Foundation, 2012).

Post a 400-ish word excursion response reflecting on the film.