a book grows in & out of itself

This is [Not] a Chapbook


This chapbook is a shortened version of the keynote address for the Five Colleges symposium on “Non-Visible and Intangible: Artists Books Respond to E-Books” at Hampshire College on November 8, 2012. This piece appeared as an article in the Journal of Artists’ Books and is deformed here into a quick-and-dirty chapbook that requires a magnifying lens and mobile device to read (or is illegible/inaccessible to varied degrees). Alternatively, check out the 8.5″x11″ version in JAB 33 with many additional articles about artists’ books. Thanks to Francesca Pastine for allowing me to reproduce one of her artworks (shown here and within) from her Pour Series (2011-12).


In Clarice Lispector’s novel of metamorphosis titled The Passion According to G.H., she begins with a note: “This is a book just like any other book. But I would be happy if it were read only by people…who know that an approach — to anything whatsoever…must traverse even the opposite of what is being approached.” When we see or feel a book — whether an artist book, an e-book, any other book — what assumptions do we bring to that object? To that four-letter word b-o-o-k? Most of us likely can agree on the look of a book “just like any other book,” to borrow Lispector’s words, but to what lengths might we go to suspend our disbelief of what a book is? No antonyms for book exist in the thesaurus (except in verb form: to bow out or cancel, exonerate, free, let go), which steers me back to the verb: to charge, take into custody, schedule, reserve. Paradoxically, to book (v.) the book (n.) is to arrest said object in time, to stall its potential evolution. “Not-books” provide an abstraction that illuminates what a book is through a process of elimination. A book is not a supersonic jet, a Pentium chip, or a pipe painted by René Magritte. But what is not a book?

In her recent “biography” The Book: The Life Story of a Technology, Nicole Howard writes that books “may not immediately strike a parallel with more familiar technologies. Hundreds of pages sewn together, bearing printed or handwritten material, hardly compares to supersonic jets and Pentium chips. But in fact, no other technology in human history has had the impact of this invention. Indeed, the book is the one technology that has made all the others possible, by recording and storing information and ideas indefinitely in a convenient and readily accessible place.” If we start from the premise that the book is not booked, that it is not arrested as an artifact but also functions as a technology, an art, and mutable medium, then we see that books bear a kinetics evolving across time. The book’s clockwork may seem harder to pick apart than a watch, but there is something essential that makes the book tick, that has made it function as a portable storage system of information, as an interactive storytelling device, as a poetics of space, as both a product and process for cultivating and questioning literacies and knowledge systems, and so much more, for hundreds of years. The book nests in our psyches as a potent and potential metaphor, animate enough to stir cry upon cry of its impending death, while being very much alive and ticking. We live surrounded by and connected to so many different kinds of books that, in a sense, each deviation calls attention back to some vibrating Ur-object that may not even exist: non-tangible and invisible. A kind of phantom book.

This phantom Ur-book haunts anything that calls itself a book, multiplying its potential with each reincarnation…

To continue reading, download the chapbook, fold the pages, attach them sequentially, affix with tape or glue, then bind them with a long rubberband. Alternatively, don’t glue the pages and sketch within the blankness your visions for future books!


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