In his review in Domus, Zachary Sachs describes this MoMA exhibition which “courses through the history of twentieth-century art animated by language and language given artistic form.” The works of art “tease apart the connection between sign and signified through modes of interruption largely inspired by the technology of printing.” And the catalogue includes “texts that attempt at intervals to rationalize and idealize language, at once to purify it and to demonstrate its essential muddiness.”
Why bookmark this exhibition?
It is apropos to our unease, excitement or dismay about the digital metamorphosis of the book. As Sachs puts it, “The historical works here swing between anxiety and ambivalence, emotions seemingly inevitable in response to the immense power (and attendent limitations) of written communication.” The same is true of our reaction to the moiling of books, ebooks and apps.
And the MoMA exhibition is one of those “full circle” phenomena, a recapitulation, a reminder of how, in trying to ground the history or evolution of the book, in reading its situation, we often go right back to the alphabet, the word, language itself.
Of David Diringer‘s two substantial volumes on the history of the book, the first is entitled The Alphabet (1968). In Helmut Lehmann-Haupt’s brief but important One Hundred Books about Bookmaking (1949), an entire section is given to writing and lettering, and that is preceded by a bibliographical entry for Edward Chiera‘s They Wrote on Clay (1938), on how the tablets of the Babylonians still speak to us today. For another instance, see also the posting here on Norma Levarie‘s The Art & History of Books (1968).
Art can be a means to, or cause of, ecstasy — extasis, to stand outside one’s self. Book art and specifically in this case the “ecstatic alphabets” exhibition can encourage us to stand outside what is happening to the book in order to reflect on it. If the exhibition were open to further curation, two “bookend” additions the exhibitors might agree would fit are
the Holy Kinship, c. 1470, panel painting, 69x144cm, Westphalian school, Maastricht, St Servatius Cathedral Treasury, which exults in the letter, scroll and book in the service of sacred art, and
Agrippa (A Book of the Dead) by Dennis Ashbaugh and William Gibson (New York: Kevin Begos, Jr., Publishing, 1992), which “even compared with other artist books . . . is an unusual textual artifact. Beyond the materiality of the book and realia themselves lies the issue of authorship. The text of the poem on the self-erasing diskette is by the novelist William Gibson, and the copperplate aquatint etchings inside the book were created by artist Dennis Ashbaugh. Gibson and Ashbaugh are most frequently cited as the book’s “co-authors.” However, the project was conceived by publisher Kevin Begos, Jr., and the code for the software that scrolls Gibson’s poem as well as for the encryption program (sometimes mistakenly called a “virus”) that subsequently erases that poem was written by a programmer signed “Brash” (who desired to remain anonymous) with help from John Perry Barlow and John Gilmore (founders of the Electronic Frontier Foundation).” [James J. Hodge, “The Agrippa Files, an online archive of Agrippa (A Book of the Dead)]
Norma Levarie (1920-1999) was a graphic designer and author of children’s books, one a winner of a New York Herald Tribune award — Little People in a Big Country. But, in addition to her design work for the National Audubon Society, The Jewish Museum, The University of Chicago Press, Oxford University Press, Random House and Harry N. Abrams, this Virginian’s most important gift to those interested in the evolution of the book and book arts is her volume The Art & History of the Book (New York: James H. Heineman, 1968).
The quality of her research and writing measures up to the best. If only Heineman had been able to afford color reproductions, her ability to handle illustrations and her keen eye for selection of examples would have placed this book in good company with works such as Michael Olmert’s The Smithsonian Book of Books (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian, 1992). Still, Levarie’s book merits a bookmark for its overarching message, which is cleverly embodied in the book’s organization.
Facing the stark image of the Prism of Sennacherib on the opposite page, these words of Ashburnipal launch the book on the recto page:
“. . . I read the beautiful clay tablets from Sumer and the obscure Akkadian writing which is hard to master.
I had my joy in the reading of inscriptions in stone from the time before the flood. . . .”
Continuing chronologically up to the fifteenth century and “block book,” Levarie switches to a geographical approach, starting of course with Germany, ending with England and returning to a timeline overview from the seventeenth century to the twentieth, the last illustrated with pages from Spiral Press’s Ecclesiastes (New York, 1965), drawings by Ben Shahn, engraving by Stefan Martin and calligraphy by David Shoshensky, and Apollonaire’s Le Bestiare (Paris, 1911).
This structure neatly builds to these concluding words:
“The homogenizing forces of our time have broken many barriers of national style, and sometimes it is difficult to tell at a glance the origin of a book. But local differences in production or taste still exist, and where they are manifest they bring the pleasure of variety. . . .
For the lover of fine books, nothing can replace the bite of type or plate into good paper, the play of well-cut, well-set text against illustration or decoration of deep artistic value. But an inexpensive edition can carry its own aesthetic validity through imaginative or appropriate design. These are not matters of concern only for aesthetes; if, in an era of uncertain values, we want to keep alive respect for ideas and knowledge, it is important to give books a form that encourages respect. The style and production of books, for all the centuries they have been made, still have much to offer the designer and publisher in challenge, the reader in pleasure.” (303-06)
Leaping ahead more than fifty years to the shift from print to digital, we find that many of the observations and message legitimately reassert themselves. Websites and ebooks do vary in design from region to region, but standardization and, more so, the global character of the Web and the products of the technology industries counter-assert a homogeneity in design. Sven Birkerts‘ elegies for Gutenberg are echoed across blogs devoted to the continuing pleasures of the printed book. But likewise Levarie’s stand that these are not merely matters for the elite is echoed across the debate of print vs digital in the popular press and the democratizing blogosphere.
What still must be translated from her message is how to make the leap that, if we respect ideas and knowledge, we must give online books as well as print books a form that encourages respect.
William H. Gass’s books Finding a Form and Reading Rilke demonstrate over and over that one of this author’s great qualities is his ability, as Daniel Mendelsohn put it, to leave you “feeling more human.”
In 1973 in an article in The Library Quarterly and in her 1979 dissertation, Mingshen Pan (or Ming-Sun Poon) concludes from her examination of books during the Sung period that the colophon gradually changed in form, content, design, and placement, demonstrating an increasing use of the colophon as an advertisement of the printer and his wares. This shift embodied a critical transition in the printing trade of that time. As support from governmental and private sources waned, support from diversified sources were sought in which the commercial element played a significant role.
Familiar? As the European printing press began to make books available to a wider economic circle, manuscript books ceased to be supported by commission and patronage. One of the earliest and famous printers of Venice, Aldus Manutius, reportedly printed only one commissioned book (Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, 1499); the rest had to make their way in the market.
In Sir Isaac Newton’s day, “Printers secured their livelihoods by advertising medicines, . . . Physicians told each other that if they want to market a new drug then they ought to go to the booksellers to do it.” Adrian Johns, Piracy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009), pp. 84-85.
Publishing has always been marked (or marred) by the struggle to establish a stable business model.
Under the blog name “Wynken de Worde,” Sarah Werner writes about books, early modern culture, and those of us who may be postmodern readers — when she is not preparing the syllabus for her course at the Folger Shakespeare Library. Wynken (not related to Blynken or Nod) was the primary assistant to William Caxton the first printer of English-language books — Malory’s Morte d’Arthur, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and The Golden Legend.
If Sarah Werner channels Wynken de Worde in her classroom as well as she does through her website, her students are to be envied. She makes what she writes tangible, palpable, haptic. Three brief examples, the last of which prompts this bookmark:
Imposition is “the arranging of pages in a chase [a steel or iron frame for holding them tightly for the letterpress] in a particular sequence . . . so that when folded the printed pages will be in consecutive order.” Glaister, Encyclopedia of the Book (2001). But the earliest books did not have page numbers, so how were old Bill and Wynk to know which to place where? Here’s Werner:
Above is a numbered example of the same newsbook that I used as an image in my last post. The red numbers are page numbers: folded in the right way, you’d get an 8-page booklet in the order indicated. But if you look closely, you’ll see that the actual news sheet doesn’t have page numbers. Instead, there are signatures: at the bottom of the first page is a tiny, blotted “L”; at the bottom of the 5th page is a tiny “L3″ (the “L2″ has been cut off at some point when the page was trimmed). These are signature marks that count off by leaves. What’s a leaf, you ask? It’s a physical unit of paper: when you turn the page in a book, you are actually turning a leaf of paper. Early modern printers would have thought in terms of sheets and leaves, not pages, when they were figuring out how to print a work. Depending on the imposition (how the text is laid out on the sheet), you could end up with different numbers of leaves: 1, 2, 4, 8, 12, 16, 24. A quarto imposition results in a sheet of paper being turned into 4 leaves; there are 2 pages to each leaf (a recto side and a verso side), so there are 8 pages in all. The blue letters and numbers show the signatures. One thing that throws off beginners is understanding how recto and verso relate to each other. They do not mean right and left but front and back.
Providing a downloadable PDF with which to follow along, Werner walks the reader through the exercise and proves her point: “it’s a handy way to understand and demonstrate to others the general principle of early modern format: multiple pages are printed onto a single sheet in the correct order so that when folded, they appear sequentially.”
The second example of the pedagogically palpable or the palpably pedagogic comes in the same posting:
“When you’re done, you can try folding it into a tiny little pressman’s cap, following the instructions that appear in this lovely piece, “The Newspaper Man is Defunct,” from The Cape Cod today.”
That bit of fun was two years ago. The brilliance is undiminished today; if anything it’s brighter. For this year’s course, Werner is handing out her syllabus in unpaginated quarto format. To figure out the syllabus, the students have to fold the imposition correctly! Try it yourself and grasp the meaning of the “book arts.”
Ah, the books arts. Imposition. The dying arts? You need look no further than the end of your Proboscis to see that that is not true. Proboscis is a London-based non-profit studio that commissions and facilitates new works and publications, some of which can be found in the DIFFUSION library.
DIFFUSION ebooks are hybrid digital/material publications. They bring together the “tactile pleasures of tangible objects with the ease of sharing via digital media.” Shareable paper books, free to download as PDFs, print and make up, DIFFUSION eBooks “can be shared electronically or as material objects – scanned, photocopied, emailed or posted. The eBooks bridge analogue and digital media by taking the reader away from the computer screen and engaging them with the handmade.”
And just a bit further along the continuum is Francisca Prieto, also in London. Inspired by the serio-comical poet Nicanor Parra’s “antipoems,” Prieto offers up The ANTIBOOK.
The reader must fold the pages of the book (20.5 x 10.5cm) to form the icosahedron (15 x 17 x 19cm) in order to read Parra’s antipoems in order.
Whether Prieto’s ANTIBOOK or the DIFFUSION ebooks are book, art, both or neither, they and Wynken de Worde make us think with our hands as well as our minds about what can be done with the form and concept of the book. And that makes the concept of imposition worth a bookmark.
PS: “Books On Books” acknowledges David Pearson’s Books as History (New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll, 2008 and 2011), p. 75, for the inspiration of the wording of the conclusion here.
We’re witnessing another sea change in Web publishing. From Pinterest at the beginning of this year to the launch this week of a new product from two Twitter founders, Medium, 2012 has been a year where the norms of publishing are being challenged.
So writes Richard Macmanus at ReadWriteWeb about a new platform for Web publishing. But there have been books written in Twitter. What if the same were to happen in Medium? If the stream replaces the page, if topic maps replace authors, . . .
The original posting (20120815) begins beneath the image. The updates are flagged below.
Somewhat similar to the discussion kicked off by Jason Pontin in Technology Review, this collection of viewpoints pulled together by Anna Lewis of ValoBox for The Bookseller‘s digital blog FutureBook puts the case for HTML5 over the app/device.
“. . . HTML5 has laid down a new marker in browser standards. Not only does it enable offline capability through caching of content, it also lets you create websites that feel like native apps. The browser is certainly becoming a very different beast. So, does this mean publishers should rethink their approach to the browser, and see it as a way to deliver content, not just discover it?”
How the answers to this question play out affects the evolution of the book. Bookmark the concept if not this web page.
Also a three-part series of postings by Bill McCoy, Director of the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF), has begun at Tools of Change today (20120816). The first in the series articulates a key point about the book as content,
“. . . over time there will continue to be an increasing ability to conveniently publish directly to the cloud, as well as increasing acceptance by end users of cloud-based consumption. Perhaps someday the idea of a “file” will even become obsolete. But, at a minimum for many years to come – and possibly forever – it seems obvious that there will continue to be a significant role for reified content objects [italics added], particularly portable documents.”
Books On Books will add links to the second and third of McCoy’s postings by as they occur. The concept of the book as a reified content object (techy as the phrase may be) has its bibliographic and critical forerunners (in the work of McKerrow, Benjamin, Barthes, Ong and others) and its contemporaries (in the work of Illich, Hayles, Michael Joyce and others).
On its surface, the debate in which HTML5, EPUB 3, iOS apps, the ebook, the cloud are swimming seems to be a competition of technical approaches and tools. Beneath its surface, however, stirs something vital to the future of the book.
Updated bookmark begins here (20120817). . .
Before Bill McCoy’s next posting (see above for the first), Jeremy Greenfield at Digital Book World (DBW) usefully flagged a timely collection of postings supporting “the cloud trumps the future” perspective on ebooks: Hachette’s return on its investment in the cloud, the State Department backing off its Kindle deal in order to research other options (cloud-based being the implication), the major textbook publishers’ adaptation to Virtual Learning Systems and MOOCs (massive open online courses), etc.
The “cloud” view, however, recalls an apt caution Michael Joyce made in his Adam Helms lecture in Stockholm in 2001:
Digital culture reels and swaggers like a drunken plowman who dreams of taking flight, relieved of mortal weight and presence. . . . an old dream, perhaps the oldest of human culture . . . . Much is made of how the digital escapes fixedness, . . . from electrons hurtling along copper corridors, upward to switched registers of transient values, and ultimately to brilliant phosphor letterforms which disappear like fireflies in a billion recurring twilights of a nanosecond’s duration.
However we situate ourselves in place and time alike. Cyberspace is not exempt from the mortal and moral geometry wherein we place our hope and find out future.
This from one of the pioneers of the ebook. What is ironic here and now is that Joyce made these comments while comparing ebooks to print books, yet today they are equally applicable when comparing ebooks in ereaders to ebooks in the cloud. As the ebook in the ereader stands with the printed book as a “reified content object,” the cloud gathers.
This maze of 250,000 books has been installed on The Clore Ballroom in the Royal Festival Hall in London. Oxfam loaned 150,000 of them. When the exhibition is taken down, the books will be returned to Oxfam along with the other 100,000 donated by UK publishers. The books will go to Oxfam’s used books stores to raise funds for Oxfam projects. Inspired by the stories of Jorge Luis Borges, the maze was created by Brazilian artists Marcos Saboya and Gualter Pupo, in collaboration with production company HungryMan.
Hear more here. See more here. Thanks to Michael Lieberman at Book Patrol for drawing this pile of books on books to our attention.
Here’s a previously missed infographic for the evolution of the book – a bit skeletal but with the elegance of the format. And while we are at it, let’s add some bibliographic and webographic “evolution” entries:
Feel free to suggest new additions to the timeline!
Ebook Timeline Updated – 20120812
Yesterday, the 11th of August 2012 marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of Hypercard. Alerted by Matthew Lasar in Ars Technica in May, gurus lined up to comment on Bill Atkinson‘s contribution in the 80s to Apple and the basics of hyperlinking techniques we now take for granted.
With the publication of The Cluetrain Manifesto, Weinberger became one of the Web’s leading light-shedders (gurus) and provocateurs. Most important in this context, he was in the audience when Bill Atkinson presented Apple’s Hypercard to the MacWorld conference in 1987. Weinberger writes, “HyperCard was a groundbreaking, beautiful, and even thrilling app. Ahead of its time for sure. But the time it was ahead of seems to me to be not so much the Age of the Web as the Age of the App. I don’t know why there isn’t now an app development environment that gives us what HyperCard did. Apparently HyperCard is still ahead of its time.”
Tennant, too, has written several books and a monthly column on digital libraries for Library Journal for a decade and currently works at OCLC. Most important, he “was there” as an early user of the Hypercard system and HyperTalk programming language on which it is based. As Tennant puts it, “HyperCard was where I learned how to DO the Web. It was where I learned the importance of screen real estate. It was where I learned the law of 7, plus or minus 2. It was where I learned how important graphics are in creating an engaging site. It was where I cut my teeth on interactivity.”
Apps, screen real estate, Miller’s law, graphics and “cutting teeth” on interactivity — all are part of the new toolkit for making books.
Timelines are, of course, for looking further back as well as forward. Earlier this year, April 2012 marked the fifteenth anniversary of the publication of
and the online publication of short but extensively hyperlinked extracts from the print book as well as the online publication of The Electronic Hypnerotomachia, which contains the facsimile text and illustrations. The online publication of extracts from Lefaivre’s book illustrates the linking prefigured by the “card stack” approach of HyperCard. What MIT Press and TU Delft, Lefaivre’s affiliation, host on their servers are not ebooks or even e-incunabula of the sort we experience today, but they are clearly forerunners to them.
In twenty-eight more months, December 2014, we will see the 515th anniversary of the original work’s publication by Aldine Press (Venice, December 1499). The founder Aldus Manutius did not normally publish heavily illustrated books. The Hypnerotomachia Poliphili was the exception and the only commissioned work that Manutius undertook. The exception reflects favorably on the overall success of his business and supports the view that Venice had become the capital of printing and publishing very shortly after the invention of printing by moveable type.
The book unveils an inscrutable, almost comic-book-illustrated story, glittering with made-up words in Greek, Latin, Hebrew and Arabic (including proto-Greek, -Hebrew and -Arabic fonts). In addition to the page displays sculpted into shapes such as goblets, this one volume displayed the technological mastery of and improvement on the new Roman (as opposed to the heavy Gothic) typeface Bembo. According to Norma Levarie in The Art & History of Books (New York, 1968), this singular volume revolutionized typography in France in less than twenty-five years.
Somewhat like software releases, though, the 1499 edition came with bugs. The colophon to the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili falls at the end of a full page of errata.
Feel free to suggest new additions to the timeline!
“The Book Industry Study Group (BISG), a leading U.S.-based trade association representing the entire book supply chain, announced today the publication of a new Policy Statement endorsing EPUB 3 as the accepted and preferred standard for representing, packaging, and encoding structured and semantically enhanced Web content — including XHTML, CSS, SVG, images, and other resources — for distribution in a single-file format.”
For the record and from the Library of Congress:
Coincidentally, Amazon UK reported today that it is now selling 114 Kindle ebooks for every 100 print books it sells.
The EPUB format is not natively readable on the Kindle device or in the Kindle application. Customers can add conversion apps easily to their devices to make EPUB readable on a Kindle, but as consumers seek the advantages of an industry standard, how will Amazon respond?
Feel free to suggest new additions to the timeline!
Ebook Timeline Updated – 20120725
As we are still in the Age of e-Incunabula, what better than a trip half way around the world to Japan to see one of the world’s largest collections of Western incunabula — and an excellent site to bookmark?
The National Diet Library’s site refers to itself as an exhibition based on the book “Inkyunabura no Sekai” (The World of Incunabula) / written by Hiroharu Orita, compiled by the Library Research Institute of the National Diet Library. Tokyo: Japan Library Association, July 2000 (in Japanese).
The exhibition provides a timeline of incunabula from the second half of the 4th century when the shift to the codex occurred to 1980 when the British Library began entering data on its collection of incunabula into the ISTC. The site provides much more than this chronology.
Images from the collection, statistics on the type fonts used, coverage of design and how the quires (sheets of paper folded, forerunner of book signatures and files in EPUB!) were arranged, and the binding process — all are covered straightforwardly and often in entertaining detail. Look on this site and consider how far we have to go with our ebooks and apps!
Ebook Timeline Updated – 20120719
Not as interactive as the Counterspace timeline for typography below, but certainly as densely informative, and it extends to typography online.
Ebook Timeline Updated – 20120717
Another timeline, this one focused on bookbinding. Is .zip the binding for an ebook?
Ebook Timeline Updated – 20120710
On the heels of the question above comes an outstanding interactive infographic on a critical element of the book and ebook: typography.
Ebook Timeline Updated – 20120706
Yet another ebook timeline, and this one is broken down into interpretive categories, “The Age of Writing” and “The Network Era,” which is thought-provoking. Are we in “The Age of the Tablet”?
Start of the Ebook Timeline
In 1936, “Chronology of Books & Printing” appeared in its revised edition, published by Macmillan in New York. In 1996, Cor Knops picked up the torch and started a Book History Timeline from Sumerian clay tablets (he could have started with the caves at Lascaux!) through to 1997 with the first issue of “Biblio Magazine” but with little acknowledgment of ebooks.
Forged together, the chronologies would have to include “As we may think” by Vannevar Bush in 1945, Ted Nelson’s coining of “hypertext” in 1963-65, the Apple Newton in 1993 (how many publishers and authors have kept track of the free downloads of their Newton ebooks?) and much more.
Another extension of the ebook timeline appears in this book by Marie Lebert, which fills in important gaps, misses others and offers more than a few overemphasized continental developments. Her timeline takes us through 2009, which means that the signal events in 2011/12 of ebook sales’ outstripping those of print in some markets are still to be added.
Even the “book arts” are having to go back to the future, sort of, to survive.
In the Renaissance, the arts and manuscripts were supported by the patronage of the rich and powerful, intent on securing fame, honor or redemption by association with lasting works.
Along comes the democratizing printing press, and eventually (a very long eventually), patronage is replaced by secured copyright and a working market. Now the democratizing Web has arrived, and content, including art, should be free, so we are told or simply shown by the taking. Is that the future of the book?
The book arts (and book art) are worth a bookmark in the evolution of the book. They hark back to the brilliant works of art like those exhibited earlier this year from the British Library’s collection of medieval and Renaissance illuminated codices collected by the kings and queens of England over 800 years.
In the BL’s ‘Turning the Pages™’ system and ebook versions, we see how the affordances of the web and ebooks can enhance our experience of those works.
In a previous post, we looked at the Center for the Book and Paper Arts at Columbia College Chicago‘s offering awards of “two $10,000 commissions for new artworks for the iPad [which] will have physical counterparts that intersect, modulate, or inform the digital components of the artwork.” From print to digital in one case, from digital to print in the other. The book, its arts and its art as an object have been and will be the focal point of cultural investment.
The work of Brian Dettmer, gracing the cover of Christine Antaya’s edited volume Book Art: Iconic Sculptures and Installations Made from Books(Die Gestalten Verlag, 2011), embodies why this is so. Dettmer’s book art declares that despite or because of our crossing the digital divide, the book’s legacy as a carrier of ideas and communication remains secure in the creative realm. Take a look.
These are the kind of artists as well as masters and mistresses of the book arts that the Center for Book Arts in New York seeks to support.
Crowdsourced funding won’t provide contributors with lasting fame by association, although there are rewards in the form of invitations to openings and Artists’ Talks as well as a small letter-press printed gift. Here’s hoping that those who value the arts and books (digital and print) for their own sake will dig into their pockets.