Books On Books Collection – Ian Hamilton Finlay

The Errata of Ovid (1983)

The Errata of Ovid (1983/4)
Ian Hamilton Finlay, Gary Hincks
H76 x W80 mm
Offset printed in red and black, eight loose cards enclosed in a flap folder. Typeset in Bruce Old Style(?); illustrations by Gary Hincks; card stock unknown.
Acquired from Woburn Books, 31 October 2019.

Consisting of eight cards or leaves held together by a folder, this small work falls within the defined limits of the miniature book, according to the Miniature Book Society (US). It seems to fit better the looser mould of conceptual art. After the first or second leaf, the joke — “For ‘this character’s name‘ use ‘the name of the thing into which the character is turned‘” — is clear: metamorphosis = erratum. But the tongue-in-cheekiness goes beyond the title and text wordplay.

“Errata” is an anatomical part of the book, but this work is larger than the usual book part — an errata slip — and while smaller than a book, it lays claim to be a book. What seems to be one thing is also another. Its binding is a folder, the “cover” illustration (upper left) is a broken pillar, an erratum of sorts, and each erratum appears on a “loose leaf” — much like a portfolio of prints. The roots of “portfolio” are portāre (to carry) and folium (leaf), but given that the Latin for “door” is foris, isn’t it a near homonymic pun that the “title page” (upper right) shows a forum-like portal, a door opening on the leaves that follow? What seems to be one thing could be another.

With two pages taken up by the title page and colophon, there are only six errata (for Atys, Cyane, Daphne, Echo, Narcissus and Philomela). Why only six? Is Finlay, like many conceptual artists, leaving it to the viewer to complete the work? What if the curious and obsessed return to the Metamorphoses to come up with the other “errata” in the tales (Cyparissus, Myrrha, Perdix, Syrinx and all the rest)? But hang on: if the curious and obsessed carry on and mentally correct all of the errata, won’t Ovid’s Metamorphoses be “corrected“, or metamorphosed, out of existence? And when there are no more errata, how could there be a work called The Errata of Ovid?

A few years after the publication of The Errata of Ovid, Finlay drew up ”Six Proposals for the Improvement of Stockwood Park Nurseries in the Borough of Luton”, which included a caprice with a wall and plaques. The wall in Stockwood Park stands today, presenting the text of The Errata of Ovid engraved in eight stone plaques (minus the colophon but with the addition of “For ‘Adonis’ read ’Anemone’”). Did Finlay imagine the park’s visitors standing before the wall like stone sculptures themselves smiling or frowning at the concrete poet’s wit?

Hincks’ India-ink-drawn illustrations — especially those for Cyane and Narcissus — are delicate and rough at the same time. The two for Cyane and Narcissus in particular warrant a close look for their representation of reflections in water, perhaps the most metamorphic element, Nature’s closest instance of metaphor and metamorphosis.

Further Reading

Books On Books Collection – Jacqueline Rush Lee”, 8 October 2019.

Duncan, Dennis; Smyth, Adam, eds. Book Parts (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019), pp. 258-59.

Eyres, Patrick. ”A people’s Arcadia: the public gardens of Ian Hamilton Finlay in relation to Little Sparta”, Studies in the History of Gardens & Designed Landscapes, 29:1, 2009, pp. 115-32. DOI:10.1080/14601170701807088.

Finlay, Alec, ed. Ian Hamilton Finlay: Selections (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2012), p. 190.

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