Books On Books Collection – Klaus Detjen

Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira le Hasard – Ein Würfelwurf niemals tilgt den Zufall (1995)


Un Coup de Dés jamais n’abolira le Hasard: Poème – Ein Würfelwurf niemals tilgt den Zufall: Ein Gedicht (1995)

Klaus Detjen

Casebound, unopened binding. H300 x W255 mm, 85 pages. Acquired from Stefan Schuelke Fine Books, 30 June 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

This work strikes a curious chord with two exhibitions from 2016 and 2018 — “Reading as Art” at the Bury Art Museum and “The Art of Reading” at the Museum Meermanno, respectively. The works in both exhibitions not only challenged notions of the book and ways of reading but posed the act of making as a form of reading and the act of reading as a form of making. By prefacing this French-German edition of Un Coup de Dés with a book-arts-driven “transcreation”, Klaus Detjen demonstrates that the act of making also implies the act of translating. Typographer, designer, scholar and recipient of the Leipzig Gutenberg Prize for 2017, Detjen has used color, shape, line and binding here as his tools of translation and interpretation.

To use the term “transcreation” here may be taking liberties with Haroldo de Campos’s portmanteau for the idea of “translation as recreation”, or translating with creativity and therefore making “translation-art”. The term and definition perhaps better describe works such as those shown in The New Concrete: Visual Poetry in the 21st Century edited by Victoria Bean and Chris McCabe. But then De Campos and his brother, Augusto, singled out Un Coup de Dés as one of the cornerstones (along with Ezra Pound, James Joyce and e.e. cummings) for their group Noigrandres, and Mallarmé’s poem certainly fits the bill of the ideal target of transcreation:

The more intricate the text is the more seducing it is to “recreate” it. Of course in a translation of this type, not only the signified but also the sign itself is translated, that is, the sign’s tangible self, its very materiality (sonorous properties, graphical-visual properties…. Haroldo de Campos, “Translation as Creation and Criticism”, p. 315.

This notoriously difficult poem to translate (or even comprehend) with its cascade of metaphors and symbols (the central ones being a shipwreck and a constellation) appears three times in Detjen’s volume: first, in French with Detjen’s interpretive design, then in French and finally in German. All three instances follow the typography and layout of the first book edition of the poem as published in 1914 by Gallimard. Detjen’s own treatment of the poem very much focuses on the edition’s graphical-visual properties.

In that edition, the rhythm and position of the lines, the font and all the font sizes are precisely specified. Nine typographical motifs structure the poem. They are additionally highlighted in the front part of our book with colors, the meaning of which will be discussed later. Font sizes, styles (roman or italics) and the colors of the motifs used are as follows: First double-page spread: UN COUP DE DÉS, 11.25 mm, blue-violet / Second DS: QUAND BIEN MEME, 3.5 mm, cyan-blue / Third DS: que, 3.5 mm, green / Sixth DS: COMME SI, 5.25 mm, magenta; Une insinuation, 3.5 mm, yellow / Eighth DS 8: SI, 5.25 mm, magenta red / Ninth DS: C’ÉTAIT, 4.5 mm, orange red; autrement qu’hallucination, 2.5 mm, yellow; issu stellaire, 2.5 mm yellow. Klaus Detjen, “Zum Gestaltung”, p.81 (my translation).

The colored linear frames, threads and markings give the nine typographical motifs additional structuring. Detjen intends them to highlight the reading order to guide the reader through the text like a score. Detjen’s later discussion of their meaning, however, focuses mainly on les blancs, the white space around the text of the poem. Taking Mallarmé at his word in the poem’s foreword, Detjen seizes on the whiteness of the surrounding space and runs to the prismatic metaphor that the spectrum of colors is simply the decomposition of white light. Detjen also notes that the unorthodox Rien/Nichts printed on the volume’s opening page alludes to the expanse of blank space enclosing the lines of text and, in support, quotes from Mallarmé’s “Crisis of Verse”:

Everything is suspended, an arrangement of fragments with alternations and confrontations, adding up to a total rhythm, which would be the poem stilled, in the blanks; … Mallarmé, “Crisis of Verse”, p. 209.

From all this, Detjen avers that it is

as if Mallarmé did not want to have his poem depicted, that is, printed, but perhaps only thought or, at best, whispered. Or did the author see the poem printed in white on white paper? Detjen, “Zum Gestaltung”, p. 82 (my translation).

Following that line of thought, Detjen switched from Mallarmé’s preferred classical serif typeface to News Gothic Bold after experimentation showed that sans serif enabled him to print legibly in flat white on white paper. Confirming his primary focus on the expanse of blank whiteness, Detjen even concludes his afterword by quoting Jorge Luis Borges on Mallarmé:

The impersonal color white itself — is it not utterly Mallarmé? Borges, “Narrative Art and Magic”, p. 79.

In his heavy emphasis on les blancs, Detjen ends up not doing justice to other more subtle aspects of his design artistry. Before he comes to the poem’s expanse of whiteness, note how the opening page of Rien/Nichts follows the black pastedowns and endpapers — the absence of light contrasting as much with the cover’s pure white as with the poem’s blank spaces.

Note how the colors to come in his interpretive version appear in dice shapes arranged on the front and back white covers to suggest the faces of a pair of dice. The whole volume becomes ein Würfelwurf, un coup de dés, a throw of the dice, which echoes Mallarmé’s obsession with le Livre — that work that everything in the world comes to be.

More subtly, Detjen combines the uncut folios with the colored shapes and markings to suggest “rigging” for the foundering ship and a “mapping” for the constellation. The turning uncut folios become billowing sails or rising and falling waves, across which the rigging cuts and the constellation shines.

Detjen’s visual and physical “transcreation” underscores why the French and German translations are not side by side, page for page. How could they be given the way the poem’s words work with the type, the page, the double-page spread and folios? All of which meets de Campos’s definition of the ideal target for transcreation — where the work’s signified, sign and materiality are intricately bound to one another.

In Detjen’s version preceding the French and German versions, the act of translation and interpretation meets the act of creating a work of art.

Further Reading

Bean, Victoria, and Chris McCabe, eds. The New Concrete: Visual Poetry in the 21st Century (London: Hayward Publishing, 2015).

Borges, Jorge Luis. “Narrative Art and Magic” [1932]. Trans. Suzanne Jill Levine; ed. Eliot Weinberger. In Selected Non-Fictions (New York: Penguin Books, 1999), pp. 75-82.

Campos, Haroldo de. “Translation as Creation and Criticism” [1963]. Trans. Diana Gibson and Haroldo de Campos. In A. S. Bessa and O. Cisneros, eds., Novas: Selected Writings (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2007), pp. 312-326.

Cisneros, Odile. “From Isomorphism to Cannibalism: The Evolution of Haroldo de Campos’s Translation Concepts“, Érudit: At the crossroads of translating and writing: Poetics and experiments, Volume 25, Number 2, 2012, pp.15-44. Posted 8 October 2013. Accessed 22 August 2020.

Jaruga, Rodolfo. “Ezra Pound’s Arrival in Brazil“, Make It New: The Ezra Pound Society Magazine, Volume 4.1-2, September 2017. Accessed 22 August 2020.

Mallarmé, Stéphane. “Crisis of Verse” [1897]. Trans. Barbara Johnson. In Divagations (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009), pp. 201-11.

Paola, Modesta de. “Translation in Visual Arts”, Interartive, August 2013. Accessed 22 August 2020.

Books On Books Collection – Peter Malutzki

Doctor Diderot’s & Mister d’Alembert’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass (2018)

Doctor Diderot’s & Mister d’Alembert’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass (2018)
Peter Malutzki
Book: H368 x W120 x D80 mm; Slipcase: H374 x W124 x D140 mm
Acquired from the artist, 10 February 2019

Malutzki’s tall small work evokes memories of Max Ernst’s Une Semaine de Bonté (1934) but pushes back on them with the work’s fine book execution. The book’s startling height derives from the more startling source of the paper: original pages from the plates volumes (1762-72) of Diderot’s Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers (1751-72). Through antiquarian dealers, Malutzki collected loose sheets from the first Paris folio edition and some from Italian editions (Lucca or Livorno).

The original engraving-papers (printed on one side as usual) are folded and glued together on the fore-edge. The stack of folded leafs has been glued at the spine with a small strip of glue so that each double spread has just a fold in the gutter, but no stitching, which shows the complete copper engraving unharmed structurally.

The endpapers are dyed through, and the fly-leaves are glued on the fore-edges to the first and last leaf of the book-block. The dark blue material used for the end-papers and the slipcase is an industrial one (Napura Khepera marine by Winter & Company) and is used for the endpapers. The Xian scarlet cloth for the cover also comes from Winter & Company. Throughout the book’s brief narrative, the dark blue associates with Diderot, and the scarlet with d’Alembert.

While Malutzki combines Ernst-like elements of the comic book and collage, the work is more of a conversation among imagery and concepts of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries than an exercise in surrealism. It is a narrative built with the “pictures and conversations” that Alice finds lacking in the book her sister is reading by the river as Alice‘s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) opens. Malutzki piles this 19th century Victorian fantasy atop the 18th century by substituting the Enlightenment’s Encyclopédistes Doctor Diderot and Mister d’Alembert for Alice and her sister in the opening lines from Lewis Carroll’s story. The 20th century makes its appearance with the Playboy bunny in place of the White Rabbit and a clipart-like image of a book labelled “READ ME” in place of the bottle and cake labelled “DRINK ME” and “EAT ME”. The images in the 18th century engravings underlie the 19th century text in its speech bubbles. Nearly the only change to the text from Alice‘s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass (1871) is the substitution of the characters Diderot and d’Alembert for those in Carroll’s world.

In further allusion to Through the Looking Glass‘s mirror-world and upside-down logic, Malutzki has set some of the banderolle text in reverse and placed pairs of mirrored images crosswise — all overprinted on those 18th century engravings. Malutzki‘s precision and extensive experience with overprinting and the transparency of oil-based ink was essential given the limited supply of paper from the 250-year old volumes.

Inevitably, the collector has to confront the print preservationist’s question: how can you countenance the destruction of these 18th century prints? There is a several-fold unease. First, a worry for the security of such historical material (even altered) in the collection. Second, perhaps ironically, a worry over its preservation. And third, the worry whether the artistic quality of the work justifies the trade-off of the lost prints.

With at least a thousand complete sets of the original Encyclopédie (including the plates volumes) safely ensconced in academic and national libraries from France to Australia and still more loose prints (and sets) available from antiquarians, the use of these loose sheets for artistic purpose is lighter in the scales than the use of something far more rare or, worse, unique.

The preservationist might argue, “why not use the plates from one of the 20th century reprints?” Response: not the same tactility, not the same authenticity, not the same challenge or risk — not the same unease that prods the mind.

More directly to the artistic quality of Doctor Diderot’s and Mister d’Alembert’s Adventures: The photos here do little justice to the work’s precision, the sound of the slipcase’s snug fit, the layering of colours on the page, the motion of the spine, and the different textures of the 21st century cloth binding, the slipcase, endpapers and leaves of engraving papers so neatly adhering to each other that they feel like a single leaf. It is refreshing to see Alice appear outside the tableaux to which so many book artists have turned when inspired by Carroll. It is genius to have merged Carroll’s fictive exploration of logic and epistemology with the Enlightenment’s attempt to encompass humankind’s knowledge of the sciences, arts and industries or crafts.

Doctor Diderot’s and Mister d‘Alembert’s Adventures falls outside the span covered by Malutzki’s autobiography buchstäblich Buch (see under Further Reading). As such, it occupies a prospect from which to view Malutzki’s decades-long musing about the visual arts, knowledge and whimsy, all evident from his work — both solo and in collaboration with Ines von Ketelhodt — in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

Zweite Enzyklopädie von Tlön: Ein Buchkunstprojekt von Ines von Ketelhodt und Peter Malutzki, 1997-2006 (2011)

Zweite Enzyklopädie von Tlön: Ein Buchkunstprojekt von Ines von Ketelhodt und Peter Małutzki, 1997-2006 (2011)
Ines von Ketelhodt and Peter Malutzki
H302 x W220 mm
256 pages; printed linen-over-board cover with embossed spine title, thread stitched; LuxoCream 115 gsm text paper; Frutiger, typeface.

Through his fiction — especially his story ”Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” — Jorge Luis Borges has played as inspirational a role for artists and book artists as have Lewis Carroll, Stéphane Mallarmé and Laurence Sterne. An incomplete list includes Katie Holten’s About Trees, Sean Kernan’s Secret Books, Aurélie Noury‘s “Pierre Ménard, El Ingenioso hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha“, Hanna Piotrowska (Dyrcz)‘s Jorge Luis Borges, The Maker, Liliana Porter’s prints, Elaine Sturtevant’s Sturtevant: Author of the Quixote and Daniel Temkin’s and Rony Maltz’s Borges: The Complete Works. For book art, though, Malutzki’s and Von Ketelhodt’s fifty-volume work must lead the list, closely followed by this descriptive catalogue, a bookwork in itself.

Eva Hanebutt-Benz (Gutenberg-Museum Mainz) introduces the catalogue by defining the various sorts of encyclopedic reference work, where the Zweite Enzyklopädie fits in, how it is organised, and the inspirational role played by Borges’ story “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius”, which is reproduced complete in the catalogue in Spanish as well as German and English. Hanebutt-Benz’s essay, too, is given first in German, then in English, establishing the pattern for all of the essays from the other twenty-two contributors to the catalogue — librarians, artists and curators — each describing two or more volumes of the Zweite Enzyklopädie.

This multilingualism of the catalogue is characteristic across the fifty volumes and the works of Von Ketelhodt and Malutzki in general. More important, by echoing the exploration of multilingualism, language and meaning in Borges’ story, it joins the story as a unifying force in the catalogue and across the Zweite Enzyklopädie. Excerpts from the story appear in many of the volumes, as the relevant contributors note and elucidate. Another unifying force aligned with the story is the artists’ use of the primary colours in the catalogue.

Sampling several paragraphs from the opening and closing of each language version, we can see the red, blue and yellow inks that are used to signal those portions of Borges’ text that appear somewhere in the fifty volumes. In the margins, the volume’s title and specific page number are called out in the relevant colour. The double-page spread separating the contributor’s essays from the section of photos of the fifty volumes applies the primary colours and black across the names of the fifty volumes, leaving space for future volumes. This is the sort of maker’s detail linked with the larger organisational elements that contributes to the unity of a work that, in Hanebutt-Benz’s words, is an “encyclopedic collection of creative possibilities, generating a book cosmos, closed within itself, playfully and yet following strict guide lines.”

As a work in and of itself, the catalogue intensifies so many of the characteristics of the more traditional “artist’s book” that, without the monolithic presence of the fifty volumes, sight of its “book art-ness” could slip away. The artists have a dual preventative. One is to make the fifty volumes a visible presence by giving each volume its own double-page spread following the double-page spread shown above. This generates 300 colour photos.

Another is a gamble: a roll of the dice that the twenty-three contributors would deliver comments on each volume that rise to the occasion. It was a winning gamble, but there is one superlative pair of essays that rings like a tuning fork: COOKBOOK and QUIZ as explained by librarian James Henry Spohrer (University of California, Berkeley). They are at once Borgesian, Malutzkian and Von Ketelhodt-esque.

Only the discussion of COOKBOOK is offered here — an incentive to visit QUIZ. In QUIZ, Spohrer seamlessly carries on his conversation with his “colleague“ Extasio Antón in a way that proves Hanebutt-Benz’s statement true:

The world recorded in this encyclopedia is, in the end, an actual encyclopedic collection of creative possibilities, generating a book cosmos, closed within itself, playfully and yet following strict guide lines.

Further Reading

Hale, Julie and Beth Sweet. Masters: Book Arts – Major works by leading artists (New York: Lark Books, 2011).

Long, Elisabeth. “Even More Books from the Hybrid Book Fair”, The Sign of the Owl, 6 July 2009. Accessed 23 October 2019.

Long, Elisabeth. “Second Encyclopedia of Tlön”, The Sign of the Owl, 23 July 2009. Accessed 23 October 2019.

Mellby, Julie. “Zweite Enzyklopädie von Tlön”, Graphic Arts, Princeton University Library, 17 June 2010. Accessed 24 October 2019.

Soltek, Stefan. “Epilog” in buchstäblich Buch: eine Autobiographie by Peter Malutzki (Florsheim/Offenbach, Germany: Peter Małutzki/Klingspor Museum, 2017).

Books On Books — Sean Kernan

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Copyright 1999, Sean Kernan, Inc.

The Secret Books is a dialogue between the photography of Sean Kernan and the writings of Jorge Luis Borges.  It contains tritone photographs, short stories, poems and quotations as well as an essay by the artist.   Kernan explains how the dialogue began:

“There was an old book out on a table. I went to put it away, but instead I just opened it and gazed. I looked at the way the sharp metal type cut into the paper, at the blooms of foxing in the margins. I smelled its slight odor of papery rot, caught Latin words here and there and made out that they said something about the spirit and devotion. I stood there for the longest time. The book had stilled me.

On an impulse, I went to the closet where I keep a compost heap of props and got four black stones from a Japanese river. I set them out carefully in a line across the pages of the book. And suddenly it looked to me like…a poem. Or a kind of poem, at least. Maybe a Haiku or something by one of the Imagists, something that didn’t narrate or argue but just placed a few simple things before you and invited you to complete the work. This book with its stones was a pure image, the kind that can move from one mind to another and root there in some mysterious panspermic process. Joining things that didn’t logically go together–Latin meditations and Japanese rivers, black stones and creamy paper–broke apart some notion of what these things should say and set my imagination free to work. I had always wanted my photography to do this, and now I saw this wonderful composition open on the table before me.

I took a picture of this poem. And that was the beginning of these books.

After a while there were enough of them to suggest that they might themselves make a book, and indeed had to be a book. So I began to think about what might be necessary to make this happen. Perhaps it needed the armature of a text, but what that text might be and how it might work to unite the whole wasn’t clear. Then a designer friend, Lana Rigsby, saw the pictures and said they reminded her of Borges.

Of course! …

The Secret Books doesn’t attempt to illustrate Borges, and it doesn’t aspire to be a collaboration–as an artist I couldn’t hold his coat. I have simply found some instances in which he speaks directly about books and have put them with my images of books to make a kind of sequence, or perhaps a dialogue. And navigating thus under the star of Borges, I look at this book–words and images, side by side on the table before me–and find myself looking down dark, unfamiliar paths across the plane of the world with a rising sense, both exciting and ominous, that everything is about to change.”

The Secret Books was published in 1999 by Leete Island Books to coincide with the centennial of Borges’ birth and, by happenstance, with the start of the long journey to the EPUB standard.  The month before The Secret Books appeared the Open eBook Forum (now the IDPF) released the Open eBook Publication Structure (OEBPS) version 1.0.  A coincidence Borges would have relished.

English: The poem El apice of the Argentinian ...
English: The poem El apice of the Argentinian poet Jorge Luis Borges on a wall of the building at the Groenhovenstraat 18, Leiden, The Netherlands. Nederlands: Het gedicht El apice (De top) van de Argentijnse dichter Jorge Luis Borges op een muur van het gebouw aan de Groenhovenstraat 18 in Leiden, Nederland. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Further Reading

Hanna Piotrowska (Dyrcz)“, Books On Books Collection, 13 December 2019. In particular, see Twórca/The Maker.