Stewart 2011

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Stewart, Garrett. Bookwork: Medium to Object to Concept to Art. Chicago: University fo Chicago Press, 2011.

"the orphaned codex form" -- "Whether they are culled from libraries or carved from foreign matter, these retreads and effigies are book-works that -- in collaboration with viewer rather than reader -- do bookwork." (xiii)

"This study thus operates at a collision of two disciplines and the elision of a third. In it, art history impacts book history over the absent scene of anything like literary reading." (xviii)

An Exhibit in Mind

book objects -- "My sense si that the theoretical insistence of all such works, their claim on a postwar genre of textual remediation, requires no existence in order to prosecute the ideas they conjure. They are so fully conceptual that they need no perceptual basis except in the mind's eye."

demediation: "an active function of such works rather than some a priori condition, names the undoing of a given form of transmission, now blocked or altered, in the medium of its secondary presentation" (1)

"Where in Marshall McLuhn's well-known sense of the form/content dyad, the content of a new medium is always the lingering form of the old, in the art of demediation the absence of the old medial form becomes the content of the new work." (1)

"Operating, one way or another, upon a familiar material support in the codex form, the objects we are to encounter are works committed to the working over of book shapes, in alteration and combination, or their working up in simulation. Results take their bearings from a formal defiance, here called remediation, that is by no means new to contemporary museum experience. The book irremediably closed to reading is the open secret of this whole regnant aesthetic." (12)

"Book-works, as suggested, are mounted in their divergent ways to explore exactly the unconscious of mediation, returned with material force for each viewer from the standard suppression entailed by abstract text." (12-13)

"Denied any medium of communication or translation, the resistant book-work, the anti-book, offers the very scaffold of latent textual intimacy, summoning -- even under physical duress and erasure -- the tacit space of reading's inner rather than outer bounds. These are the routes, recesses, and tunnelings of normal response in a book's confounding of spatiotemporal 'extent,' the whole mystified world-building of its own material enclosure and its intangible space-making duration." (13)

"When the familiar verbal transmitter, the book as paper manifold, is either dismembered and rebound or closed upon itself to become a virtual back box not only empty but unplugged, it is only so as to mark out -- in the abstract -- the never strictly spatial shape of our reading machines to begin with. The expunged text, as book-work, can grow pungent with the idioms of verbal immersion itself, familiar even in their exaggeration and parody. Always in 'mute' mode anyway, the book shape that goes so far as to boast no words at all may still, in its own right, float to claim to meaning on a punning 'volume' reduced to one sense only, a spatial displacement entirely its own." (13)

"Despite their often wholly effaced verbal dimension, there is a kind of ocular grammar to such detected book forms. Subjective genitive has turned objective; the evacuation that is reading becomes the evacuation of it. That's why various contorted objectifications of the book form, of reading's materiality rather than its matter, amount in their own way to a museum of the mind , exhibiting the mind's own ineffable -- but nonetheless figural -- relation to the present elsewhere of textual immersion, haptic and impalpable at once. This is what book-works wordlessly spell out for recognition, if only by our reading it in. Alway between text-exempt materializations of the bifold codex structure and metaphors of its activation in uptake, each new book-work, however distorted or not, intercedes in our textual preconceptions like the return of the readerly repressed. " (14)

The Thing of It Is

not just "altered book" or "treated book"; not just sculpture or assemblage

"The book: a txt on offer. Singular or composite, the book-work: an object or objects on exhibit, reduced in the usual case to a format of canceled text -- at lest mostly canceled, water words may lie open on the sampled surface. Bookwork, then: the mod of materialization for such reduced textual circumstances." (21)

"Not just unnumbered but often entirely deposed, book-works are what is left of bibliographic culture without the cultural transmission itself." (21)

"The vast spectrum of books arts is thus roughly split between two abiding and rather different fascinations: the ramifications of design and graphic layout, on the one hand, and the heft and texture of raw materiality, on the other -- a materiality either appropriated or at time recomposed from another medium. Across the resulting divide between publication and installation, the difference emerges most vehemently when comparing the high-concept print volume -- all design flair, no prevented textual pleasure -- with the reworked conceptualist object, which displaces reading entirely onto material reconsideration. (21)

Distinct from livre d'artiste tradition

"Unlike the facilitating art of the book (as with rubrication and illumination in the decorated medieval codex, or the manifold graphic and pictorial devices in the artist's books that flourished over the whole last century), book art, in the sense of book sculpture, begins in disuse." (25)

"bookwork as an assault on mediation" (25)

Book-objects as "pertinent negation" of book as text, as material object, as composite technology

Detournement, "the revealing deviation" -- altered or "deviant" books (livre detourne)

Book as "manifold mechanism, time-determined in its successive operation, human-scaled, content-dispensing, and duplicable" (28) -- "a jamming of all these functions at once is a common feature of the book-object in its manifestation as a nonsuccessive, perversely spatial rather than temporal, often overscale, and verbally evacuated one-off: denied, that is, the time, the means, the matter, and hence the very medium of reading, including its multiplication and dissemination." (28)

"Troped books" -- book as object and event "not just worked over but played upon, refigured, sometimes punningly doubled, by the graphic form of some analogous shape or material" (28)

"The nonbook is in its own right, that is, a "translation" or "decoding" or the book." (29)

"Anti-books are caught in the act of obstructed decipherment. As form rather than content, in its manifestation as the hallowed or occluded shell of text, such objects, no longer intentional as so-called reading matter, must therefore, by default, rework our idea of the book form itself. In the process, book-works tend to liberalize as objects -- which is only to say refigure -- the guiding paradigms of culture and communication by shrinking them to the bald facts of their material support" (29)

"Books hold in both senses: they are the vessels of culture and its tethers. Books in this sense bind: rewarding only by the ties of cognitive investment itself. Books carry conviction: they are vehicles."

"In their manifesta- tion as the hollowed or occluded shell of text, how might such “sculptural” objects rework our idea of the book form itself? And how, in doing so, could they fail to take up a place in that intersecting subfield of gen- eral semiotics and material culture known as book studies? “Of all the ways to use books,” opens a recent monograph in this disciplinary mode, “exhibiting them may be the oddest.” 6 That’s a relatively mild irony in context. What, though, if the things on display, in galleries rather than rare-book li- braries, were not real books at all, but mere things—or volumes so reshaped as to bear no relation to shelved codices? What way is that to “use books”—or to dupe (rather than duplicate) them, for that matter? The answer: it is one way of studying their ma- terial preconditions, and this in the absence of their function as conduits—a function absent and gone but not forgotten. For nonbooks serve to itemize the features of book-based textuality that may otherwise be subsumed and elided by the channels of normal transmission. What stands denied by the unapproachable book shape of gal- lery rather than conservationist display, and thus gets all the more forcefully iden- tified by suppression, are the instrumental and informational processes alike of liter- acy’s social function." (30)

"The aesthetic charge of such demediated print forms, rent or otherwise unreadable, is their own manifest contrast with the reading they disallow: the felt ab- sence of usable text right here and now. Felt absence, yes, but only in the service of con- firmed existence as idea—in an elsewhere that is also now too. Again, demediating a text by suspending our access to its form as legible object only isolates it as mental entity." (31)

Genette, autographic v allographic -- bookworks as autotropic

"When the “tropic” replaces the strictly “graphic” in this way (auto- or allo-), the bibliobjet stands defined as the book form without textual immanence." (31)

Bookwork as "the art of illiteracy" (31)

James Castle -- outsider artist who couldn't read but made books by cutting and pasting images into folios

Books now in the "isolation wards -- and obsolescence chambers -- of gallery space" (32)

"In what comes to seem a homeostatic system of institutional economies, the mu- seum space is found remobilizing a library’s expendable matter in the age of data pro- cessing, with textual surplus rescued from pulping for sculptural irony." (34)

"In literary and historical scholarship alike, book studies is a growth industry that often seems fueled by threats of the book’s own passing—as if the loam of the discipline’s recent intellectual ferment were the compost heap of cardboard and cellulose itself. Certainly that’s how book artists often treat the rumored superses- sion of the codex: the former paperwork of signage done in by the warping of form it- self in books found and mounded, dumped, compacted, or axed through, where a more concrete idea of the book form arises by de- mediation from an abasement of the material base itself. The “deaccessioned” library vol- ume is often isolated by bookwork at another level of canceled access. In this sense, again, book-works are a subfield of book history, where wreckage aspires to new recognition." (34)

"But it can’t be forgotten that the book-work, though visibly multiplying under digital anxieties, arose to new prominence from its intermittent use by surrealism (Mar- cel Broodthaers especially, and more than once, as we’ll see, even Marcel Duchamp) with the first wave of telecommunications and its widespread media consciousness." (35)

Different than paintings showing scenes of reading -- different from book objects whose purpose was never reading

Many demediated bookworks made from behind the Iron Curtain' -- "Given how many legible texts were banned under Soviet control, book artists of the more arti- sanal sort found that the unpaginated, illeg- ible text was the safer vent for bibliographic creativity, not menaced by any policing of verbal content: the radically demediated co- dex rather than a typical artist’s book." (41-2)

"Put as simply as possible, the foregone text of a readerless book can bring thing theory together with case theory around the very object generally unexplored so far by ei- ther: the art object (or visual artifact)." (43)

"Transferring these distinctions into the realm of the book as adopted (appropriated) or more drastically adapted (altered) mu- seum piece, a sculptural form either found or refashioned, one sees that the elevation of quotidian factory product to objet is likely to involve at the same time a reduction of temporal vehicle to immobile thing." (44)

"the routinization of books as objects of consciousness, where the grooves of recognition—and in part line by line along the depthless runnels of the imprinted page—tend to inoculate against response to their own physical format: their material instrumentality for coded transmission. Book sculpture lifts this con- ditioning format back to view, isolating the physical support of portable reading as a now-objectless (or purposeless) thing: the sculptural objet as the demediated double of its former and industrially cloned use as cultural tool. The question still: with such a thing no longer a textual object in the stan- dard sense, what kind of cognitive and aes- thetic form has it become?" (45)

"In the neo-conceptualism of the bibliobjet, book minus text is mere spatial volume: in- dex of nature plus manufacture (from cel- lulose to assembly line) but without symbol, closed on itself in sheer physical sufficiency." (51)

"the palpable codex base won back from its own suspended “efficacy” as message ma- chine." (51)

"Obviated or obliterated let- tering thus results in the premature “end of the book as we know it”—and as we have come to know through it. Call it the burial of the book form within the foregrounded re- mains of its material infrastructure." (52)

"so it is that the book-work artifact keeps open—by its specifically verbal demedia- tion—a question that in itself links the post- modern conceptualism of these objects with the book history that might choose to frame them otherwise. This is a question, the question, about whether reading a printed work of writing is first of all the reading, say, of literature, philosophy, history, art criticism, your choice, or instead, and more tangibly yet, the reading of a book—or of course (though by what interchange and equilibration?) both." (53)


"Books are singularities only in reading. Otherwise, and as the very presupposition of that reading, they are mass multiples." (55)

Duchamp and readymades; "By what immaterial process is the mechanically cast and then cast-off object magically (read: iron- ically) transfigured to an aesthetic one-off?" (56)

Books -- "one of culture's earliest mass-produced objects, and thus latent readymade" (56)

Duchamp, Foutain -- verbal as well as formal estrangement (he calls it Fountain, labels it by R. Mutt)

"In the book-work, art is what we do back to culture, demediating the very apparatuses of social transmission and thus laying bare its instrumental as- sumptions, all so as to make those assump- tions—rather than any specific case of re- ceived knowledge—newly legible. What the unassisted readymade first did to puncture and deflate the premises of high culture, the book-work does to concentrate and entomb them." (67)

"What bookwork does, we may say, is to rematerialize the textwork of conceptual art—grossly remanifest, that is, its struc- tural support—in the bulk prevention of the linguistic medium itself." (68)

"The denatured book-work: textual instrument stripped of linguistic function but haunted by it like a phantom limb of verbal purpose" (74)

Can't read or touch book objects -- "So that the blocked tactility of textual activation is deflected onto the merely her- meneutic rather than haptic interactivity of reaction itself." (75)

Conceptualism's use of books -- "The serial rather than originary aesthetic of conceptualists had found a cognate armature in the paginated book." (76-7)