Bookmarking Book Art – “Previously on …”

W is for %22window%22
W is for “window”.
© Myriapod Productions, 2013

“Previously on …”  Say the phrase and most listeners’ brains switch to a favorite channel and television series. It is part of our vernacular. It instantly evokes a compound state of remembering and anticipating.

Myriapod Productions embodies that state of mind in its animated alphabet-book film series Mysteries of Vernacular. Each book for each letter is an old yellowed or gray hardback whose pages turn by themselves to reveal silhouette figures that glide across the pages, accordioned illustrations from other works or carvings reminiscent of the book sculptures of Doug Beube, Brian Dettmer and Odires Mlászho – with each vernacular word and definition emerging from an old library card pocket or from beneath a flap or cutout on the page.  

The treatment of the letter W is particularly apropos to this compound artwork.  W is for “window”, which we are informed by Graham James (the narrator) is an example of the Old Norse technique of word invention called kenning. Kenning is the joining of two things (or rather two words for two different things) to designate a third thing: such as whale + road = whale-road = sea. Window is originally an Old Norse kenning word: windauga = vind (wind) + auga (eye). The book in the animation is Mikhail Sholokhov‘s The Don Flows Home to the Sea, a Nobel-prize-winning window on the life of the Don Cossacks during the Russian Revolution.

The book for the letter A (for “assassin”) is Karl Menninger‘s Love against Hate, whose theme of love’s shaping our instinctual aggressiveness suggests an ironic bent and wry, punning sense of humor in Jessica Oreck and her Myriapod team. The letter C for “clue” traces back to the ball of yarn (clew) that Ariadne gave Theseus to help him find his way out of the maze after killing the Minotaur, which is explained with an animation of George Bernard Shaw‘s The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism and Capitalism. C is also for “clever”.

D for “dynamite” plays out on the pages of A Number of Things, a satiric novel of Irish and British manners by Honor (Lilbush Wingfield) Tracy. Tracy became the fuse to a stick of dynamite planted by Bevis Hillier in his rival A.N. Wilson‘s biography of Sir John Betjeman. Hillier concocted a letter from Betjeman purporting to reveal an affair between Tracy and the Oxford don. Not only was the letter a hoax, but Hillier embedded an acrostic that spelled out “A N Wilson is a shit”.

Of course, X for “x-ray” is illuminated with George IlesLittle Masterpieces of Science, and naturally, Z for “zero” is accounted for with Teach Yourself Calculus. But this soupçon of humor runs out with H (what has “hearse” to do with Bernard Jaffe‘s story of chemistry?) and G (what has “gorgeous” to do with James Russell Lowell?) and F (what has “fizzle” to do with Mark Twain‘s Life on the Mississippialthough one can imagine his delight with the word’s eytmological kinship with flatulence?).

F is for %22fizzle%22
F is for “fizzle”.
© Myriapod Productions, 2013

Each letter, definition, chapter, volume, episode (?) of Mysteries of Vernacular elicits affection for, if not outright love of, words and language. Perhaps that is not just down to Oreck’s and team’s skill, humor and cleverness. After all, for most of us, the alphabet-book is our childhood entrée not only to letters and words but any aspect of the internal and external world we fancy. Just for ages 3-5, our bookstores and libraries have the ABCs of Asthma, Bible Verse, Colors, Dinosaurs, Engineering, Feelings, Golf, Halloween, Ice Cream, Jobs, Kangaroos, Love, Math Riddles, Nature, Origami, Pigs, Questions, Rocks, Sounds, Touch, Under the Sea, Vanishing (endangered species), Wildlife, Yoga and Zoos. And for the more app-minded, there is also Moonbot Studio’s contribution to the ABCs: The Numberlys.

Screenshot from The Numberlys, William Joyce, Moonbot Studios, 2012
Screenshot from The Numberlys
William Joyce, Moonbot Studios, 2012

Myriapod starts with the advantage of this long, long “previously on …” in our hearts and minds. In exploiting its advantage, Mysteries of Vernacular takes us on a gentle rootle round the attic and cellar of our language and social history.  The tradition of the abecedary and the disciplines of history and etymology offer a natural canvas on which Myriapod’s animation projects numerous techniques of book art. The intaglio carving reminds us not only of Beube, Dettmer and Mlászho but more so of Nerhol (the collaboration persona of Ryuta Iida and Yoshihisa Tanaka) and the work entitled Oratorical Type.

Oratorical Type by Nerhol (Ryuta Iida and Yoshihisa Tanaka)
Oratorical Type by Nerhol (Ryuta Iida and Yoshihisa Tanaka)
Oratorical Type by Nerhol (Ryuta Iida and Yoshihisa Tanaka)
Oratorical Type by Nerhol (Ryuta Iida and Yoshihisa Tanaka)

The Mysteries’ wooden desktop framing recalls Abelardo Morell‘s A Book of Books.

Water Alphabet, 1998 Abelardo Morell
Water Alphabet, 1998
Abelardo Morell

The animated book folds are enchanting (although they might have but do not aspire to the level of origami achieved by artists and craftworkers like Heather Eddy).

The Alphabet Tutorial Heather Eddy, 2011
The Alphabet Tutorial
Heather Eddy, 2013
little letters Heather Eddy, 2013
little letters
Heather Eddy, 2013

More extensively used and in keeping with the more two-dimensional feel of Mysteries is the technique of papercutting (as distinct from carving) on display with the letter W. The technique dates to the Tang Dynasty (618 -906 AD) but, in this context, harks back more recently to Victorian silhouette artistry.

Victorian Silhouette Abecedary
Victorian Silhouette Abecedary

The series of 26 episodes so rich in content and technique is addictive. You will find yourself, as with any well-done abecedary, wishing for more letters in the alphabet. Although there is a vast vocabulary of other vernacular awaiting treatment, at a production cost of $80,000 per episode, it is likely those words will wait a long time. So we are left with having to remember our anticipation. Not all anticipation is more often enjoyed in itself rather than its resolution. You have 26 windows of opportunity to learn in Mysteries of Vernacular.

Do not wait.

 

Bookmark for Literacy — Tom Chatfield

Tom Chatfield’s short essay “I Type, Therefore I Am” celebrates the increasingly rapid rise of literacy.

At some point in the past two million years, give or take half a million, the genus of great apes that would become modern humans crossed a unique threshold. Across unknowable reaches of time, they developed a communication system able to describe not only the world, but the inner lives of its speakers. They ascended — or fell, depending on your preferred metaphor — into language.

The vast bulk of that story is silence. Indeed, darkness and silence are the defining norms of human history. The earliest known writing probably emerged in southern Mesopotamia around 5,000 years ago but, for most of recorded history, reading and writing remained among the most elite human activities: the province of monarchs, priests and nobles who reserved for themselves the privilege of lasting words. …

In the past few decades, more than six billion mobile phones and two billion internet-connected computers have come into the world. As a result of this, for the first time ever we live not only in an era of mass literacy, but also — thanks to the act of typing onto screens ­— in one of mass participation in written culture.

via Tom Chatfield – Language and digital identity.

This is territory bookmarked before in response to Ferris Jabr’s “The Reading Brain in the Digital Age” — Bookmarking a Bookburning II — but it occupies higher ground.

Bookmarking a Book Burning – II

tumblr_l26w5m1KrM1qzg1xu
Untitled, Unknown student artist.

Ferris Jabr’s article “The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: The Science of Paper versus Screens” in Scientific American (April 11, 2013) revisits the themes raised in Maryanne Wolf’s Proust and the Squid mentioned in the previous posting.   Jabr highlights much insightful writing on the neuroscience of reading, on which more in a bit.  He begins, however, with a “haptic” anecdote that will resonate with parents and grandparents of children who are learning to read now or have learned in the last 3-5 years.

In a viral YouTube video from October 2011 a one-year-old girl sweeps her fingers across an iPad’s touchscreen, shuffling groups of icons. In the following scenes she appears to pinch, swipe and prod the pages of paper magazines as though they too were screens. When nothing happens, she pushes against her leg, confirming that her finger works just fine—or so a title card would have us believe.

Earlier the same year, I was lying in bed with an iPad reading Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov.  As the story drew me in and admittedly as the hour grew late, I found myself repeatedly reaching into the upper right-hand corner of the screen with my left forefinger and thumb to pick up and “turn the page.”  I had not developed the habit of “sweeping” or “tapping” to move through the book.  These real-life mirror images of the haptic habits of a young soon-to-be reading brain and an old reading brain bring Wolf’s speculations alive.

Numerous studies cited by Jabr suggest different areas of the brain at work in screen reading vs print reading and connect that to poorer retention and comprehension in screen reading than print reading.   But one of the more recent ones (“Metacognitive regulation of text learning: On screen versus on paper,” by Ackerman and Goldsmith) shows that where readers

studied expository texts of 1000–1200 words in one of the two media and for each text […] provided metacognitive prediction-of-performance judgments with respect to a subsequent multiple-choice test[,] [u]nder fixed study time (Experiment 1), test performance did not differ between the two media, but when study time was self-regulated (Experiment 2) worse performance was observed on screen than on paper. The results suggest that the primary differences between the two study media are not cognitive but rather metacognitive—less accurate prediction of performance and more erratic study-time regulation on screen than on paper.

S0 the reading brain may not be rewiring itself, but print and screen do demand different strategies of reading and study.  Might the “haptic habits” of physically turning the page or recalling three dimensionally the place in the book and on the page where a sentence occurs (or pinching, swiping and prodding) be clues to how we learn to learn what we read?  What we may be seeing in the one-year old are the beginnings of the metacognitive cues that will raise the performance of tomorrow’s screen reading brains, and in Ackerman’s and Goldsmith’s subjects, the familiarity of today’s reading brains with the metacognitive cues so key to studying from print that the students print out the relevant ebook chapter.

As Jabr concludes,   “When it comes to intensively reading long pieces of plain text, paper and ink may still have the advantage. But text is not the only way to read.”

Which harks back to the conclusion of the previous post and  Jerome Bruner’s  apt observation of Vygotsky’s fondness for Bacon’s epigram, “Nec manus, nisi intellectus, sibi permissus, multum valent” (Neither hand nor intellect left each to itself is worth much)” (247).   Perhaps neither print nor digital left each to itself is sufficient.

Bookmarking Book Art — A to Z in Bas Relief

Oratorical Type by Nerhol (Ryuta Iida and Yoshihisa Tanaka)
Oratorical Type A by Nerhol (Ryuta Iida and Yoshihisa Tanaka)
Oratorical Type Z by Nerhol (Ryuta Iida and Yoshihisa Tanaka)
Oratorical Type Z by Nerhol (Ryuta Iida and Yoshihisa Tanaka)

 

 

 

The Japanese artists and partners Ryuta Iida and Yoshihisa Tanaka are known as NERHOL.  Interviewed by Rebecca Fulleylove in the online magazine It’s Nice That, they explain the name:

We met at one of Iida’s exhibition and realised we had so much in common in regards to experience, design and taste. Gradually, we began working together. Our very first piece, Oratorical Type, used books as the theme, after sculpting them by carefully carving out certain sections of each page, it resulted in interesting dimensions. At that time, we still hadn’t decided on our name but soon came up with “NERHOL”, a mash-up of two words, “neru” to plan ideas and “holu” to sculpt and carve.

“To plan ideas” and “to sculpt and carve” those ideas in air, time, stone, wood or paper is that not a poem, a book, a building, a city — the work of art?  That these two artists chose the letters of the alphabet as their first work together, that the alphabet and each of its letters came into being by collective human art and craft marking our passage from orality to literacy and that the alphabet, type and book are tools by which we have strived to evolve — how could they not be named Nerhol and their first work of art not be called Oratorical Type?

Bookmarking a Book Burning – I

Julian Baggini (Aeon) has posted a thoughtful piecejulian-baggini-burning-books on the need for an important cultural artifact to evolve — not just in its codex form but in its very essence — the encyclopedia.  One reader/viewer (there’s a video as well) commented:

Which is worse? Burning books because they are now available in an electronic format? Or not having any physical books to burn, unless you steal them from a museum or collector?

Hold that thought (an “argument by false dichotomy”) and go to Baggini’s concluding paragraph:

I can’t help but mourn the passing of my set of Britannicas, but I do not mourn the passing of the institution. Encyclopædias have passed their use-by-date as fitting symbols for the esteem in which we hold culture and learning. The world is changing, and books, magazines and education have to change with it. Nostalgia for obsolete publications serves us only if we use it to remind us of the things we really value, and want to take forward into our own new world.

What if, though, the things we value and want to take forward into our new world are caught up in the “affordances” of such tangible institutions as the encyclopedia.  Maryanne Wolf hits this chord hard in Proust and the Squid when she worries about the effect of the Google universe on the nature of her children’s ability to read:

Reading is a neuronally and intellectually circuitous act, enriched as much by the unpredictable indirections of a reader’s inferences and thoughts as by the direct message from the eye to the text. … Will the constructive component at the heart of reading begin to change and potentially atrophy as we shift to computer-presented text, in which massive amounts of information appear instantaneously? … is there either sufficient time or sufficient motivation to process the information more inferentially, analytically and critically? … Or does the potential added information from hyperlinked text contribute to the development of the child’s thinking? …

I stray with these questions. But indeed we stray often when we read.  Far from being negative, this associative dimension is part of the generative quality at the heart of reading. … Charles Darwin saw in creation a similar principle, … ‘From so simple a beginning, endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.’  So it is with written language.  Biologically and intellectually, reading allows the species to go ‘beyond the information given’ to create endless thoughts most beautiful and wonderful.   We must not lose this essential quality in our present moment of historical transition to new ways of acquiring, processing and comprehending information. (pp. 16-17)

To go back to Baggini’s troubled reader/viewer, we will not burn books because we have them electronically.  As our different types of books evolve, some we will have electronically only and some we will have both in print and electronically.  We already have many digitised rare books and manuscripts in libraries, museums and collectors’ holdings.  Most people’s exposure to those works can only be electronic, and the more this is the case, the less the need to steal them.   But also the greater the need to understand and innovate to address the loss of tactility and the proprioceptive experience of “curling up with a good book.”  In alluding to Jerome Bruner’s collection of essays Beyond the Information Given, Wolf is reminding us (linking us?) to Bruner’s apt observation that Lev Vygotsky, the famous Soviet developmental psychologist, “was fond of an epigram from Bacon, “Nec manus, nisi intellectus, sibi permissus, multum valent” (Neither hand nor intellect left each to itself is worth much)” (247).   Perhaps neither print nor digital left each to itself is sufficient.

Bookmark for Marginalia and Note-taking

Annotation function in Utopiadocs.
Annotation function in Utopiadocs. Copyright © 2012 Lost Island Labs.
imgres
Nathaniel Hawthorne
Herman Melville
New York, NY; Salem, MA, 1846-1850. ©2012 The President and Fellows of Harvard College

Earlier this month, we saw the release of the Open Annotation Community Group’s specification of the Open Annotation Core Data Model, an interoperable framework for creating annotations that can be easily shared between platforms.  The work, directed by Robert Sanderson and Paolo Ciccarese, began in earnest about six months ago, although it was proceeded by longstanding efforts within and between the editors of the Annotation Ontology and the Open Annotation Collaboration.  Under the auspices of the W3C, the efforts merged into the Open Annotation Community Group (OACG).

The OACG model defines an annotation as “a set of connected resources, typically including a body and target, where the body is somehow about the target,” and the full model  “supports additional functionality, enabling semantic annotations, embedding content, selecting segments of resources, choosing the appropriate representation of a resource and providing styling hints for consuming clients.”    Public rollout events are scheduled for 9 April (Stanford University), 6 May (University of Maryland) and 24 June (University of Manchester).

Back in November last year, while the Open Annotation Community Group (OACG) was thrashing through how to handle collections of annotations and other ontological issues, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies at Harvard University held a two-day symposium called “Take Note,”  marking the conclusion of a two-year project on the history and future of note-taking.  The project also resulted in a virtual exhibition of objects and works from the Harvard University Collections with notes ranging from a price list inscribed on a potsherd to a clothes list on papyrus found in an Egyptian garbage dump to Herman Melville’s annotations of his review copy of Hawthorne’s Mosses from an Old Manse (see image above).    The exhibition was curated by Greg AfinogenovAnn Blair and Leah Price, and interestingly, the OACG’s Paolo Ciccarese contributed to building the exhibition’s website.

So besides Paolo Ciccarese’s involvement, what’s the connection between these two events?   Perhaps the link is captured in three comments from the participants:

Bill Sherman, historian at the University of York and author of Used Books: Marking Readers in Renaissance England, commented to a reporter,  “We’re now in a moment where we’re leaving behind fewer traces of our reading than ever before…. We may have moved to the turning point where…we’ll have to find new ways to leave more behind.” And as Matthew Kirschenbaum has spelt out in Mechanisms, historians will have to learn new ways to decipher what is left behind.

David Weinberger, author of The Cluetrain Manifesto and long-time blogger, tweeted (according to the Harvard Gazette reporter), “”Collaborative notetaking via etherpad or GoogleDocs etc. is often a great way to go. Fascinating to participate in, too,’ during an afternoon presentation that explored digital annotation tools.”  Like Bob Stein, the co-founder of the FutureoftheBook.com, Weinberger is a champion of social reading and collaborative creativity.

Another participant told the Gazette’s reporter, “’I was struck by the request that we send our notes into Radcliffe because my reaction was, “You know, my notes are really none of your business. My notes are my private thoughts, my private collaborations.” Until I am dead, I don’t really need other people looking at them.'”  That last comment is particularly fetching:  one wonders whether William James and Herman Melville had such an eye on posterity as they scribbled their notes now on display across the Web.

As the book evolves and we annotate works in our ereaders (offline or online), how do we ensure that they persist, and whether offline or online, how do we handle how private or public those notes will be?

Earlier this month, BOB raised proprietorial questions about annotated ebooks in response to Nicholas Carr’s article “Used e-book, slightly foxed” sparked by the Amazon patent for selling pre-loved ebooks.  On his site, Carr responded with his own questions:

“[W]hat’s the relationship (legal and otherwise) between an e-book and the annotations added to it by its reader? Are the annotations attached to the particular copy of the e-book, and allowed to remain attached to it when it passes to a new reader, or do the annotations exist in a separate sphere — say, in a personal online database that is the property of the individual reader? … what right does the copyright holder (in particular, the author) hold over the way an e-book is presented? If annotations, or other metadata, in effect become part of the text, permanently or even temporarily, then does that represent a modification of the work that requires the consent of the author? You can’t publish an annotated print edition of a book under copyright without the copyright holder’s permission. Do different rules apply to an e-book?” (Carr’s questions elicited an interesting comment at Futureofthebook.com:  “perhaps the interdependence of print and screen books is inevitable….”)

In some respects, by digitizing and reproducing others’ property (appropriately acquired through bequests, gifts and so on), the Harvard University Collections’ virtual exhibition illustrates Carr’s questions and those of the symposia participants — even the comment from Future of the Book — in a beautifully “tangible” way.  Think upon it.

 

Bookmark – The Future of Reading?

Cover reproduced courtesy of the author, Bill Hill.

Michael Kozlowski sums up two of the more interesting features in the new Kindle devices:  Immersion Reading and Whispersync for Voice.  Immersion Reading synchronizes your ebook with your audiobook.   This prompted some browsing to find out what science has to say about simultaneous visual and aural reading.  What can the physiology, neuropsychology and sociology of reading tell us about ourselves?

Quite a bit about the location in the brain of a “supramodal language system,” but nothing easily found to tell us whether the reading experience is better, worse or the same if we read silently to ourselves while being read to.

Will cognitive scientists be lining up to recruit the new Kindle Fire purchasers to study the effects of reading “Fifty Shades of Grey” visually and aurally at the same time?  A possibly new degree of sensory overload to be discovered?

In 1999, Microsoft employed a canny Scot (is there another kind?), named Bill Hill, to study the experience of reading and provide feedback for its development of the Microsoft Reader platform, and from that came a small book called The Magic of Reading.  Nothing  like a peek into the past to clarify the present or kindle an interest in typography.

Ten years on from Bill Hill’s book there is Stanislas Dehaene’s Reading in the Brain for those with a burning interest in cognitive science.   No tabula rasa here.

Before Hill or Dehaene, Walter J. Ong wrote, “More than any other single invention, writing has transformed human consciousness.” (Orality and Literacy, p.76).  Perhaps that should have been “reading and writing.”

Will the rejoining of silent and aural reading fire the next transformation?

For further reading (silently or aloud):

Vinall-Cox, Joan. Moving From Paper to E-Book Reading.  eLearn Magazine. March 2012.  Retrieved September 8, 2012.

Rollins, H.A. Jr., Hendricks, R.  Processing of words presented simultaneously to eye and ear.  J. Exp. Psychol. Hum. Percept. Perform. 1980 Feb; 6(1): 99-109. Retrieved September 8, 2012.

British Association for the Advancement of Science (2007, September 11). Reading Process Is Surprisingly Different Than Previously Thought, Technology Shows. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 8, 2012.

Association for Psychological Science (2010, August 30).  Eye movements reveal readers’ wandering minds.  ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 8, 2012.

Florida State University (2012, February 14). How Do Children Learn to Read Silently?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 8, 2012.