Books On Books Collection – “Inscription: the Journal of Material Text”, Issue 2

Inscription: the Journal of Material Text – Theory, Practice, History, Issue 2 (2021)
Edited by Gill Partington, Adam Smyth and Simon Morris
Perfect bound softcover, H314 x W314 mm, 180 pages. Editions included: Fiona Banner (aka Vanity Press), Full Stop, front & back covers; Kendell Geers, Stripped Bare, end papers; Carolyn Thompson, The Beast in Me, H1180 x W1180 mm; Erica Baum, Piano Rolls, H120 x W120 closed, W960 mm open; Harold Offeh, Crystal Mouths, H210 x W105 closed, W480 mm open; David Bellingham, Cigar Burn Apertures, H210 x W105 mm; Miranda July, Bookmark, H302 x W54 mm; Christian Bök, Supermassive, LP. Acquired from Information as Material, 10 October 2021.
Photos of the issue: Books On Books Collection.

How materially perverse is it that the second issue of Inscription is devoted to “the hole”, yet it is the first issue that actually has a hole in it? The first issue of Inscription did set a seriously playful — or playfully serious — tone, and the second issue does not fail to maintain it. The second issue continues the dos-à-dos binding but with only the front and back covers as the external giveaway. In the middle of this single-spine paperback, pages 1-90 meet an inverted pages 90-1 in the middle, which prompts the reader to turn the open book 180° and flip back to page 1. From either direction, the reader meets the traditional backmatter of a journal in the middle.

Inverted cover and center of Inscription (2021).

Such reversals of expectation call for a countervalent design element to avoid too much confusion. In this issue, that element consists of constant earth-tone backgrounds framing constant black-on-white text boxes (square holes?) for each article. Even within these constants, reversals of expectation play out. The backgrounds are drawn from 14 different sources, ranging from laid paper samples, parchment, pulp and brown boards to a slice of Emmental cheese (sorry, Gromit, no Wensleydale), and the layouts for each square hole differ, being taken from 16 other journals such as The Criterion, The Egoist and National Geographic.

List of backgrounds used throughout the issue.

List of publications whose layouts are used throughout the issue.

The Emmental cheese background around the opening of Marcinkowski’s essay; Hybrid wove/laid paper made for James Watt & Co around the opening of Lüthi’s essay.

There is an even more recurrent “bass” line in this issue. It comes from the South African artist Kendell Geers, interviewed by the Editors. Even this bass line plays with variable perspective. Marking the start of most articles is a sheet bearing on recto and verso pages the image of a bullet hole (entry then exit) taken from Geers’ work Point Blank (2004). Bullet holes in glass — from Geers’ Stripped Bare (2009) — punctuate inversely the inside covers, bringing two symmetric/asymmetric openings to this topsy turvy production.

Kendell Geers, Point Blank (2004), front and back covers; Stripped Bare (2009; inside covers of Inscription (2021).

Long-time admirers of the 1960s-70s multimedia magazine Aspen, the editors have continued their practice of including unbound elements. In this issue, they have included Carolyn Thompson enormous poster The Beast in Me, whose sentences and part-sentences beginning with “I” have been cut from eight different novels and pasted down to form the hole seen below. Also included are Erica Baum’s Piano Rolls, Harold Offeh’s Crystal Mouths, David Bellingham’s Cigar Burn Apertures, Miranda July’s, Bookmark and Christian Bök’s Supermassive LP.

Carolyn Thompson, The Beast in Me, H1180 x W1180 mm. Photo: Ricky Adam. Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection.

Erica Baum, Piano Rolls, H120 x W120 closed, W960 mm open. Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection.

Harold Offeh, Crystal Mouths, H210 x W105 closed, W480 mm open; David Bellingham, Cigar Burn Apertures, H210 x W105 mm; Miranda July, Bookmark, H302 x W54 mm; Christian Bök, Supermassive, LP. Photos of the works: Books On Books Collection.

Like the famous combined Aspen issue Nos.5/6 — an homage to Stéphane Mallarmé — Inscription manages to pull off an eclectic unity with the essays included, which unlike Aspen was accomplished after a double-blind review process. Inscription‘s editors have turned on its head Robert Frost’s dismissive characterization of free verse as playing tennis without a net; they are playing doubles with a net and blindfolded and have created a work of art. This issue’s entries range from Paul Reynold’s erudite and whimsical definitions of all sorts of holes; the scholarly detective work on the holes that bind (pin holes and punch holes by Craig Robertson and Deirdre Lynch and filing holes by Heather Wolfe); James Mission’s tracking the crafts of scribe, typesetter and coder in representing lacunae, gaps or holes in the text; Louis Lüthi’s puncturing juxtaposition of W. Somerset Maugham’s 1948 abridgment of Moby-Dick, Orion Books’ 2007 Moby-Dick in Half the Time and Damion Searls’ 2009 riposte ; or The Whale; to Fiona Banner’s photo-essay on her hole-creating Full Stop‘s, granite sculptures of full stops (periods) created from the Peanuts , Klang and Orator typefaces, two of which were dropped into the marine protected area of Dogger Bank to put a sure stop to industrial fishing there. Here is the table of contents:

Michael Marcinkowski — “house / table”
Galina Oustinova-Stjepanovíc — “Reading the Hole on the Last Address Memorial Plaques in Moscow”
Fiona Banner — “Full Stop intervention with Greenpeace”
Simon Morris — “Perspective Correction”
Dianna Frid, Carla Nappi and Ian Truelove — “Wormholes, The Cascabel Butterfly and an AR collaboration”
Aleksandra Kaminska and Julian De Maeyer — “The Perfect Cut: Talking with Myriam Dion”
Paul Reynolds — “A Glossary of Holes”
Louis Lüthi — “A Snow Hill in the Air”
James Mission — “Signifying Nothing: Follow a Hole Through Three Text Technologies”
Editors — “An Interview with Kendell Geers”
Heather Wolfe — “On Curating Filing Holes”
Craig Robertson and Deirdre Lynch — “Pinning and Punching: A Provisional History of Holes, Paper, and Books”

Inscription continues to provide one of the liveliest examples of what Anne M. Royston calls “artistic arguments (my emphasis), a term that indicates theory that pushes back against the expectations of the theory or criticism genre, specifically by employing signification that exceeds the semantics of printed text”.

Further Reading

“Inscription: the Journal of Material Text”, Issue 1. 15 October 2020. Books On Books Collection.

Royston, Anne M. 2019. Material Noise: Reading Theory as Artist’s Book. MIT Press.

Books On Books Collection – Shandy Hall

The Black Page Catalogue (2010)

The Black Page Catalogue (2010)
Coxwold, UK: Printed by Graham Moss (Incline Press) for The Laurence Sterne Trust.
Contains 73 numbered leaves in a matte black card box (H235 x W168 mm). The leaves are glossy cards (210 x 148 mm) on which contributed texts and illustrations (chiefly colour) are printed; the reverse of each provides the contributor’s comments on the text or illustration and the “page” number. Also enclosed are a single-sheet folded pamphlet (“Printing the Black Page” by Graham Moss, Incline Press) and two cards, one of which is the invitation to the exhibition inspired by the ‘black page’, p. 73 of the first edition of The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, held at Shandy Hall, Coxwold, North Yorkshire, 5 Sept.-31 Oct. 2009, and the other, sealed in an envelope, being the index of the contributors and their page numbers. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Collectors come up with the most ingenious reasons for acquiring things. In this case — along with astrological, numerological and other rational rationale — Rebecca Romney’s reminder that The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman is one of the earlier instances of book art led inevitably to my acquiring Shandy Hall’s The Black Page Catalogue. But it took time.

Several months after enjoying the Romney essay, I met Brian Dettmer in January 2015 by happenstance at a book art exhibition in New Haven, CT. As we chatted about past inspirations of book art, Tristram Shandy came up, so he told me of an upcoming event called “Turn the Page” in Norwich, UK, where I could more easily see some of his work — and one in particular having to do with Tristram Shandy. So in May 2015, I went.

Tristram Shandy (2014)
Brian Dettmer
Carved and varnished, two copies of the 2005 Folio Society edition of Tristram Shandy.
H230 x W190 mm
Commissioned by The Laurence Sterne Trust, Coxwold, UK. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

The marbled page, an “emblem of my work”, p. 169.
The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1759) by Laurence Sterne
Illustrated with wood engravings by John Lawrence.  Set in ‘Monotype’ Plantin, printed by Cambridge University Press on Caxton Wove Paper.
New York: Folio Society, 2005.

So a year passed. Another visit to “Turn the Page” was made. And as I was leaving, lo, a sign and small display came unto me:

Only a negligent collector would ignore such clear signs.

Ten favourites because 10 = 7 + 3.
Clockwise from the top: Craig Vear, Simon Morris, Tom Phillips, Colin See-Paynton, Coracle Press, Scott Myles, Helen Douglas, Graham Swift, Yasunao Tone, Harrison Birtwistle.

Parson-Yoricks-to-be can select their own favorites here.

Emblem of My Work (2013)

Emblem of My Work (2013)
Coxwold, UK: The Laurence Sterne Trust.
Consists of a 24-page booklet and 170 numbered cards in a hinged blue paper-covered box (H160 x W105 x D60 mm. The leaves of this catalogue are bright white cards (152 x 92 mm) on which the artwork is printed; the reverse of each provides the “page” number and the contributor’s comments on the art. The booklet provides alphabetical and numerically ordered indexes listing the contributors and their page numbers. Edition of 225, of which this is #79. Acquired from Shandy Hall, 1 October 2019. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Volume III of Sterne’s work was the first to be handled by a publisher. Presumably the famous success of the first two self-published volumes helps to explain James Dodsley’s agreement to printing copies in which each page 169 and each page 170 showed uniquely marbled squares. Images from an original copy held at the British Library can be seen here. As Patrick Wildgust, director of Shandy Hall, explains in the booklet:

The central section of p. 169 was laid upon the marbled mixture in order that a coloured impression could be taken as cleanly as possible. This was left to dry and then reverse-folded so the other side of the paper could also receive its marbled impression. This side of the paper became page [170]. As a result, the marbled page in every copy of Vol. III is different — each impression being a unique handmade image. In the text opposite on p. 168, Sterne tells the reader that the marbled page is the “motly emblem of my work” — the page communicating visually that his work is endlessly variable, endlessly open to chance.

Two favorites — one for page [169], one for [170] — artists with other works in the Books On Books Collection. Left: Ken Campbell. Right: Eric Zboya.

All of the motley crew can be viewed here.

Paint Her To Your Own Mind (2018)

Paint Her To Your Own Mind (2018)
Coxwold, UK: The Laurence Sterne Trust.
Contains 147 numbered leaves in a brown paper-covered box (174 x 124 mm). The leaves are bright white cards (145 x 105 mm) on which contributed texts and illustrations (chiefly colour) are printed; the reverse of each provides the contributor’s comments on the text or illustration and the “page” number. Also enclosed are a “title page” and “index leaf” listing the contributors and their page numbers. Edition of 200. Acquired from Shady Hall, 6 June 2018. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Page 147 of Sterne’s sixth volume of Tristram Shandy is blank. On the preceding page, he metaphorically throws up his hands over any attempt to describe the most beautiful woman who has ever existed and exhorts the reader: “To conceive this right, —call for pen and ink—here’s paper ready to your hand, —Sit down, Sir, paint her to your own mind—as like your mistress as you can—as unlike your wife as your conscience will let you—‘tis all one to me—please your own fancy in it.” So, accordingly, Shandy Hall invited 147 artists/writers/composers to follow Sterne’s instruction to fill the blank page 147. From the 9th through 30th of September 2016, their efforts were displayed in the Shandy Hall Gallery, Coxwold, York.

Twelve favourites because 12 = 1 + 4 + 7.
Clockwise from the top: Christian Bök, Simon Morris, Colin Sackett, Nancy Campbell, Colin See-Paynton, Derek Beaulieu, Erica Van Horn, Simon Cutts, Jérémie Bennequin, Helen Douglas, Brian Dettmer, Chris McCabe.

The curious reader can choose his or her own favorites here.

The Flourish of Liberty (2019)

In Volume IX on p. 17, the reader reads Corporal Trim’s advice to Uncle Toby, who stands at the Widow Wadman’s threshold about to propose marriage:

Nothing, continued the Corporal, can be so sad as confinement for life — or so sweet, an’ please your honour, as liberty. Nothing, Trim — said my Uncle Toby, musing — Whil’st a man is free — cried the corporal, giving a flourish with his stick thus —

The Flourish of Liberty (2019)
Coxwold, UK: The Laurence Sterne Trust.
Contains 103 numbered leaves in a gray paper-covered box (174 x 124 mm). The leaves are bright white cards (148 x 105 mm) on which contributed texts and illustrations (black and white, several in colour) are printed; the reverse of each provides the contributor’s comments on the text or illustration and the “page” number. Also enclosed are a “title page” and “index leaf” listing the contributors and their page numbers. Edition of 150, of which this is #133. Acquired from Shandy Hall, 26 October 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Clockwise from the top: Nick Thurston and Sarah Auld, Erica Van Horn, Derek Beaulieu, Simon Morris, Francesca Capone, Simon Cutts, Helen Douglas, Jérémie Bennequin, Nancy Campbell, Craig Dworkin

The rest of Corporal Trim’s flourishes flourish here.

Further Reading

Ancliffe, Abra. The Secret Astronomy of Tristram Shandy (Portland, OR: self-published, 2015).

Drucker, Johanna. The Century of Artists’ Books (New York: Granary Books, 1995), pp. 33 and 162.

Lazda, Gayle. “A lot of Shandy”, London Review Bookshop, 14 January 2016. Accessed 18 September 2019.

Mullan, John. “The ‘stuff’ of Tristram Shandy”, British Library, 21 June 2018. Accessed 18 September 2019.

A Practice for Everyday Life. “The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman”, Reading Design, 2011. Accessed 18 September 2019.

Romney, Rebecca. “Sterne’s Tristram Shandy and Materials as Meaning“, 15 July 2014. Accessed 23 August 2014.