From the e-codices project, here’s something the history of the book can teach us going forward.
Well designed digital work will be machine-actionable, but will also be capable of expressing its content when moved to other media, even non-digital media. Neel Smith, College of Holy Cross, Boston, MA.
The manuscript page in the photograph above comes from a copy of Plato’s “Phaedo,” the description of Socrates’ death. Its round humanistic script belongs to a single scribe, who identifies himself in red thus, “Marcus Speegnimbergensis scriptsit“ (fol. 75).
The attribution for the image associated with this item is Pellegrin Elisabeth, Manuscrits latins de la Bodmeriana, Cologny-Genève 1982, pp. 330-331. The item has a Digital Object Identifier: DOI: 10.5076/e-codices-cb-0137, which provides a fair bit of that metadata needed for Dr. Smith’s purposes.
Lesson? It might be a good idea for every book and ebook to have a DOI, but then the International DOI Foundation and its registration agencies would need to find a sustainable business model to provide easily accessed DOI-generators for everyone seeking to publish those items.
Smith’s comments on the Fondation Martin Bodmer Collection at Cologny also imply a tangential and harder question. In the absence of some persistent unique identifier like the DOI and well-provided and maintained metadata associate with it, what are the digital (but technology-agnostic) forensic tools with which we will uncover our ebooks’ “Marcus Speegnimbergensis” and the evidence of the social contexts and creative tools with which “our Marcus” worked? That’s a “poser” for the likes of Matthew Kirschenbaum and webliographic scholars to come.
For 2014-15, the New England Guild of Book Workers have organized a traveling exhibition: Geographies: New England Book Work, its itinerary covering each of the 6 New England states. Last year, the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), the Wishcamper Center at the University of Southern Maine and the Bailey Howe Library at the University of Vermont hosted it. This year, the show has appeared at Williams College Library and is scheduled for Dartmouth College Library and the Creative Arts Workshop in New Haven, CT. Criss-crossing geographical boundaries as well as those of book art and the book arts, Geographies calls to mind the last line of Elizabeth Bishop’s “The Map“:
More delicate than the historians’ are the map-makers’ colors.
Or, in this case:
More delicate than the historians’ are the [book-artists’] colors.
Although born in Nova Scotia, Elizabeth Bishop grew up as a New Englander in Massachusetts with her paternal grandparents. As a far-traveller and visual artist as well as poet, she would have enjoyed this exhibition and found it fitting if it had included a broadside of “The Map”.
Nevertheless, what a range of “colors” from all the New England states and beyond – from historic to modern, from fine and design bindings to traditional and creative bookbinding, from artist books to calligraphic manuscripts, from masters to apprentices and from object to narrative. The latter finds a wintry exemplar in Snow Bound in September: A Re-Imagining by Laurie Whitehill Chong, retired Special Collections librarian and curator of Artists’ Books at RISD.
The artist made this book the same size as her grandfather’s Appalachian Mountain Club hiking guide. Snow Bound is an invented ancestral narrative, in which the artist uses a surviving photograph and her grandfather’s notes about being stranded with his wife for five days on Mount Washington by a hurricane-driven snowstorm in September 1915 to re-imagine the ordeal from her grandmother’s perspective. Note the slotted front cover into which the flap extending from the back cover fits to keep the book closed, snug against the elements.
Julie B. Stackpole’s creative re-binding of Samuel Eliot Morison’s Spring Tides takes us from the New England mountains to the shore as can be seen from the layered binding.
In Stackpole’s words:
The traditional tight-joint binding is covered in navy blue Niger goatskin with waves in the lower parts created by paring before covering. Cut-outs in the onlays of the lighter blue leather of the water help it transition from the dark of the navy to the sky’s azure. Onlays of other leathers create the forested landscape of the shoreline and hills. These blues were chosen because the only blue leather in a large enough piece to cover the whole binding was the dark navy, while I only had scraps of the water and sky’s blue. The endpapers are a Cockerell marbled paper over-painted with blue, with leather hinges.
Pictures of the works in the catalog (and others not) can also be found at the Williams College Flickr site (for now). I say “for now” because they will be pushed downstream inevitably in the way of today’s digital flow. They may even disappear; although as Matthew Kirschenbaum has explained in Mechanisms, something digitally forensic will remain. That boundary of the tangible and the digital, the haptic and the virtual, is only lightly but evocatively touched in this collection.
When Julia Stackpole writes in the online catalog about that Cockerell marbled paper that it “felt to me like the waves and the shoals and ledges of Maine waters”, you long to lay hands on the Spring Tide. Anne McClain’s Place includes photographs taken digitally of places on Maine’s midcoast that have been special to her her “entire life and will continue to be a constant as other things change and move on”. What is captured digitally is reproduced physically to fix those places that will “continue to be a constant”. But places do change.
Rutherford Witthus’ contribution touches the boundary between the digital and physical most directly. His artist’s book is entitled 28 Fort Square: What Charles Olson wrote on the window casings of his apartment in Gloucester, Massachusetts, of which there are eleven copies.
In these 11 copies, Witthus digitally reconstructs the windows of Charles Olson’s apartment at 28 Fort Square where he wrote his main work, The Maximus Poems, and covered the window casings with meteorological data. The artist book “presents for the first time all of the images of the window casings”.
Athena Moore, chapter secretary of The New England Guild of Bookworkers, produced the catalog for this itinerant exhibition organized by Stephanie Wolff, Exhibitions Coordinator and Todd Pattison, Chapter Chair. If you have the chance to see the exhibition in its next venue, take it.
Just as Elizabeth Bishop questioned the depiction of the boundary between land and water on her map – “Shadows or are they shallows at its edges …”, you will find the juxtaposition of these works reminds you that the boundary between book art and the book arts can be shadowy or shallow indeed.
The fate of the book is becoming more and more critical as digital replacements ingrain themselves deeper into our society. To me the possibility of the end of the book is a tragic one; I appreciate books as an object as much as I enjoy the stories and knowledge which they hold. I predominantly work with antiquarian books as they often show evidence of their own personal story, perhaps through an inscription on the cover or a drawing on a page which adds a new layer of narrative. The theme for each sculpture may be inspired by a number of things including the title, size, shape or cover of the book. I work with wire, wadding and strips of book pages to create the impression of the sculpture emerging from within a book.
Ironic that Emma Taylor’s site has its main life on Facebook, to which one must subscribe to read the great number of comments on her bookworks. Her Tumblr site (see link above), however, displays many, if not all, of her sculptures, and in her posting of 29 March 2013, you can find an article from the Cambridge News covering her work as displayed in the local shop Plurabelle Books.
Of course, the bookwork above (made from Poor Folk in Spain by Jan and Cora Gordon, published by Bodley Head in 1922) represents what appears to be a store clerk taking down a book but could just as easily be a housekeeper dusting the bookshelves (after all the chapter in which it appears is named “Verdolay — Housekeeping”). Why “of course”? Small sculpted books created “from within a book.” Tending and caring for the physical artifact by altering the physical artifact. (A touch more irony could have been had with the addition of a tiny computer, iPad or Kindle.)
One direction Ms Taylor’s craft may take to evolve further into art would be to recognize and reflect that the fate of the book and ebook are as likely intertwined and separate in many respects as have been those of the many forms the codex has taken — from incunabula to paperback, bookkeeping to fiction or reference to textbook.
Paratextual devices such as the manicule, footnote, running heads, etc., have their “analogues” in ereaders, ebooks and books-in-browsers such as navigational icons, hyperlinks, breadcrumb trails, etc. Through the W3C’s open annotation specification, even marginalia may be finding a place in the so-called digital replacement to the printed book. With the insights of Matthew Kirschenbaum and others into digital forensics, the digital replacement and its “perfect” copies may yet yield the “evidence of their own personal story.” And if “social reading” takes deep root in the individual reading experience, the reader’s relationship to the author (and vice versa) could be enriched by the reader-to-reader relationship in ways hard to articulate. Ways that will offer the book artist new opportunities to “make it new.”
Photographs and postcards of Emma Taylor’s work can be purchased at Etsy.
View the artist’s hands at work here. 5 February 2014
In “Used e-book, slightly foxed,” Nicholas Carr ponders Amazon’s widely reported patent on a method allowing the resale or giving of ebooks and other digital objects.
Matthew Kirschenbaum might dispute Carr’s view that there is no difference between the new and used ebook however. In his book Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination, he explores the nano-differences between masters and their digital copies, much as textual bibliographers have delved into the meaningful and revealing differences among print editions and even copies of the same print edition.
What if you could download books that had been pre-annotated? I would pay extra to read Freakonomics with commentary by Paul Krugman,The New Jim Crow with notes from editors at The Nation, or the Bible annotated by the creators of South Park. A book could always inspire new layers of meaning, but now it can host that inspiration and a slew of associated conversations.
Thurston’s proposition though is more akin to the digital equivalent of the Norton critical editions or Robert Strassler’s oversized, beautifully enriched Landmark editions of Thucydides, Herodotus and Xenophon. Still, a pre-loved ebook is a different virtual matter and might be desirable to some hapless, non-haptic readers. No doubt, resellers of used ebooks will want to assure their customers that their digital goods are free of lesser annotators’ bytes of marginalia and the latest viruses and Trojan horses favored by vandals and hacksters. How will eBay cope, assuming it can come to terms with Amazon’s patent claim?
But to bring Thurston’s proposition and Open Annotation together suggests another market: the collectible ebook. Can there be such a thing as a rare ebook? Which libraries will be bidding for Clay Shirky’s ebook collection after he has shuffled off his digital coil?
The implications for DRM and copyright are delicious. Recall the hoax that Bruce Willis was considering legal action against Apple over his desire to leave his digital music collection to his daughters? If his collection’s metadata contained extensive annotations providing insight into the music or, more likely, the celebrity himself, why should iTunes’ Terms and Conditions override the family’s claim to the Die Hard star’s intellectual property that they could share (or not) with future celebrity biographers?