Category Archives: Events

Rediscovered!

This is a video of an event held at Birkbeck, University of London as part of Birkbeck Artsweek (a week of free public arts events which runs annually). It features Professor Anthony Bale and Dr Isabel Davis talking about the Birkbeck manuscript collection, which was recently rediscovered in Birkbeck college library. It was an event held for a general audience. If you’re interested in this, you might also be interested in Anthony’s previous blog post about the books.

 

Contents:

Introduction to the event – Isabel Davis

The Birkbeck Books – what they are and where they’ve come from and how they got lost – Anthony Bale (00:56)

Medieval Books of Hours – what they are, how they were used – Isabel Davis (26:00)

Praising the Daisy – Senate House Library contributes

When an email came through announcing Professor Elizabeth Robertson’s Matthews lecture in the Senate House on ‘Chaucer and Wordsworth’s Vivid Daisies’, the opportunity to enhance the occasion by displaying a couple of books to allow Chaucer and Wordsworth to speak for themselves through the printed word seemed too good to miss. After all, Senate House Library has strong literary collections, which we want people to be aware of and use.

Selecting an edition of Chaucer for the praise of the daisy in his ‘Legend of Good Women’ was easy. The first edition in which it appeared, the Workes of 1532, appealed to the eye by virtue of being printed in black letter, and exercised all the attraction of the earliest appearance of the work.

This copy of Chaucer’s Workes formerly belonged to Sir Louis Sterling (1879-1958), and the Sterling Library of first and fine editions of English literature turned up trumps again with Wordsworth. But the first edition of Wordsworth’s Poems in Two Volumes (1807), containing his three ‘Daisy’ poems, could not as a drab duodecimo volume be expected to exercise quite the same aura as the Chaucer folio. We played with the idea of showing the facsimile of the manuscript of  Poems in Two Volumes, a good way to indicate the creative process, and also to showcase Senate House Library’s palaeography collection. Manuscript facsimiles constitute a significant proportion of this, and this Wordsworth book provides a salutary reminder that these are not exclusively mediaeval. Ultimately I chose A Decade of Years: Poems by William Wordsworth, Wordsworth-11798-1807 (1911). This is a selection of Wordsworth’s poems, mostly composed between 1798 and 1807, arranged to present ‘as a whole and subjectively those special characteristics which make Wordsworth pre-eminently the poet and interpreter of the mysticism of nature, to wit, his own mysticism & oneness with the spirit of the universe, “that impels all thinking things, all objects of all thought, & rolls through all things” …’ (p. [3]). The volume was printed by Thomas James Cobden-Sanderson at the Doves Press, the private press he established with Emery Walker in 1901 to print works of great literature in productions rendered beautiful with type alone, devoid of illustration and other ornament.

The Matthews Lecture is being delivered by Professor Elizabeth Robertson (University of Glasgow), at 5pm 18th November in Beveridge Hall in Senate House, London, WC1E 7HU. It is followed by a wine reception. This event is free and everyone is welcome but you must book a place. You can view the exhibition of books mentioned above in Beveridge Hall.

Spiralbound at Sluice Art Fair

Sluice is a radical four-day art event that questions the role of the contemporary art fair. Taking place during Frieze Week, Sluice acts as a refreshing counterbalance to the corporate manufactured glamour of the Frieze Art Fair. This year Sluice is located on the South Bank in London’s iconic Bargehouse building at Oxo Tower Wharf. Throughout the weekend there will be performances, screenings, talks and a collection of artist-run spaces and galleries exhibiting new and challenging work. Unlike Frieze, entry is free. Spiralbound will be at the Sluice Art Fair throughout, displaying our range of recently published books.

Spiralbound is a non-profit artists’ publishing project exploring the susakpressinfluence of new digital technologies on the material presence of the book. Strongly supported by London gallery studio1.1. and existing as an offshoot of Susak Press, we work with artists and writers who want to use the book medium to experiment beyond, and challenge their usual practice. By subverting the capabilities of digital print on demand, the project’s aim is to publish book editions that remain uncompleted and in flux as we allow our authors the opportunity to re-shape and interfere with the book’s original version. Spiralbound is investigating how new digital technologies influence the way in which we read literary texts and how new digital influence is encouraging experimentation with the materiality of the book.

Spiralbound holds events throughout the year and at each event we launch new titles and also new editions of existing books. Our authors have the freedom to re-visit, edit and make a new edition of their book by adding or taking away image and text. As a result, the books Spiralbound produces reveal successive drafts and stages of an author’s work in progress. This allows the reader to collect and compare different versions of each book. By producing non-static content, Spiralbound is channeling performance and the immediacy of the live event into the book’s materiality whilst attempting to capture the flick and switch and pause and collect of internet-manifestocentered new digital media. For example in Manifesto (Daniel Devlin, John Hughes and Keran James), blurred images of unheralded literary and artistic figures of the twentieth and twenty-first century are uploaded and updated in each printing. These recycled and found images are juxtaposed with a collaborative group hacking and re-writing of an experimental text. Similarly, Skip I Am Far Above You (Keran James) unpacks and transforms internet spam into a piece of (in)coherent storytelling.

Books, like painting and sculpture, invite us to get our hands dirty socratesunlike the clinical touch and trace of digital surfaces. The materiality of new digital technologies, from the click of a mouse, to the thin peel of a protective iPad cover, to the buzz of a mobile on vibrate, are making contemporary writers and artists more conscious of the physical aesthetic of the book form. What connects the Spiralbound books is an engagement with the boundaries between fiction and reality. Both Socrates (Daniel Devlin) and Manifesto of A Tranny (Brian Dawn Chakley) capture live performance by combining text and video stills but it is unclear if these grainy images are depicting events that were stage managed, accidents or if they even took place. Biographies (Ghazal Mosadeq) plays with the recording and fabrication of fictional authors’ real life stories. Many Weathers Wildly Comes (Carol many weathersWatts) captures the practicality of an everyday walk yet is recorded through the blurred snapshots of a London dreamscape. Lamping Out The Trains part 1 (The RMT Jubilee South Branch Audio and Film Collective) combines oral recollections with fragments of radical London literature addressing themes of nostalgia, trauma and left-wing melancholia through a manipulation of found audio, film and text. The Glass Slipper (Athanasia Hughes) is a futuristic satire on consumerism and fashion and our increasing dependency on technology, yet the story is told through a relationship with a hologram.

Computer software programmes and applications like Photoshop or Final Cut glass slipperhave appropriated the visual materials traditionally related to books through their use of cut and paste, scrolls, paper clips and page turning. Digital Media theorist Lev Manovich states that ‘many new media objects are converted from various forms of old media’ (Lev Manovich, The Language of New Media, 2001; p. 28). For example, a webpage can be read like a photograph album or an iPad application similar to a pack of playing cards (Manovich, p. 220). At the same time, archived text messages and emails cease to be emails. Rather they take on the form of a photograph, becoming a screen shot frame that has fleetingly captured a moment of a past life. This peculiar digital aesthetic is the essence of Spiralbound. Taking something fluid and in motion, freezing it, observing and considering it, watching it but allowing it to develop and evolve. As a result each book acts as a snapshot of live text, a fleeting moment in our spiral bound times.

Spiralbound books, therefore, exist in an in–between world. The books are produced and bound professionally yet they are determinedly not part of commercial publishing. These books cannot be found in bookshops. In a way they don’t really exist, as they have no ISBNS. Yet neither are they Artist Books. There may not be many copies but they are not limited editions. Print on demand allows easy access and production, and all Spiralbound books are sold at £5. They are not zines or pamphlets but borrow the DIY spirit of Punk. Just as Sluice is re-positioning and challenging the contemporary art fair, so Spiralbound, by responding to the influence of new digital technologies, is helping to re-position the Artist Book.

spiralbound3

Spiralbound will be at Sluice Art Fair 16 – 18 October 2015

11 – 6pm

Bargehouse, Oxo Tower Wharf, South Bank
http://sluice.info/2015

To see a preview of the books at Spiralbound please visit:
http://susakpress.org/spiralbound

Chaucer and Science – an exhibition

This post introduces an exhibition to coincide with the Biennial London Chaucer Conference  on the theme of Science, Magic and Technology. It runs from 29th June to 12th July at Senate  House library.

Senate House Library often puts on displays to support conferences. It’s a win-win situation: the conference is enhanced by the books or manuscripts shown, and the Library demonstrates a sample of the richness of its holdings and the relevance of its material for research. This is the second time that it is supporting the biennial London Chaucer conference. Last time it exhibited a range of editions of Chaucer, from Richard Pynson’s 1492 printing of the Canterbury Tales onwards, and including private press editions noteworthy for their production as ‘books beautiful’. This time we broadened the display to fit the theme of ‘Science, Magic and Technology’, focussing on the science – more specifically, on astronomy and astrology.

From Chaucer's 'Knight's Tale' in 1550 edition of Chaucer's 'Workes'
‘The Workes of Geffray Chaucer Newly Printed’
Geoffrey Chaucer
London: R. Toy, [1550?]
[S.L.] I [Chaucer – 1532] fol.
We still showed a couple of early editions of Chaucer: his Workes from about 1550 (ESTC S122266), open at the ‘Knight’s Tale’ because that tale is rich in astrological symbolism, and the Workes from 1532 (the first complete edition of Chaucer) because it provides the earliest printed appearance of Chaucer’s Treatise of the Astrolabe. And we fetched out some other examples of medieval literature: a 1554 edition of Gower’s Confessio Amantis (in part imbued with astrology), and an illustrated edition of Dante’s Comedy from 1544, showing Dante’s paradise of nine concentric circles around the earth.

 

'Philosophia Naturalis, Compendium Clarissimi Philosophi Pauli Veneti' Paul of Venice Paris: J. Lambert, [ca. 1515?] M [Paulus] SR
‘Philosophia Naturalis, Compendium Clarissimi Philosophi Pauli Veneti’
Paul of Venice
Paris: J. Lambert, [ca. 1515?]
M [Paulus] SR
But we also used early scientific works. Possibly the rarest item, and the item with the most illustrative appeal, is Philosophia Naturalis, by Paul of Venice (ca 1368-1428), printed in Paris in about 1515. Despite its comprehensive title, this book comprises just one work, De Compositione Mundi – an abbreviated Latin version of the thirteenth-century monk Ristoro d’Arezzo’s Composizione del Mondo, written in about 1282. The Composizione, itself based on work by Ptolemy, Aristotle, Averroes and others, is the first astronomical work to have been written in Italian; a further claim to fame is that it may have influenced Dante, who influenced Chaucer.

 

Visit the exhibition  at Senate House Library (4th floor, Senate House), 29 June – 12 July 2015. Available during Senate House Library opening hours: Mon. – Fri. 9.00-17.45; Sat. 9.45-17.15.

 

Prosthesis, ‘Et c’

Image from: Charlotte Klack-Eitzen, Wiebke Haase and Tanja Weißgraf, Heilige Röcke, 'Kleider für Skulpturen in Kloster Wienhausen', Regensburg 2013.
Image from: Charlotte Klack-Eitzen, Wiebke Haase and Tanja Weißgraf, Heilige Röcke,
Kleider für Skulpturen in Kloster Wienhausen, Regensburg 2013.

One of the possible afterlives of a medieval manuscript, if it did not end up as part of the bindings of a new book, or as lighter paper for a fire, was to end up recycled in the lining of a dress, as a recent post to the Bodleian Library’s Conveyor notes. These parchment-dresses present themselves to us as objects from the past requiring explanation (though the explanations are sometimes more prosaic than we would hope). They also lend themselves to theorisation about the relationship between the categories ‘material’ and ‘textual’, as words detach from their original function and literally become material with which to clothe the body. A recent symposium organised by Sussex’s Centre for Early Modern and Medieval Studies on Modified Bodies and Prosthesis in Medieval and Early Modern England suggested that clothes—most strikingly early modern dresses shaped by stays and corsets—are bodily prostheses (Jenny Tiramani); but so too is clothing inscribed with words, such as parchment charms worn on the body (Margaret Healy). Words, like clothes, can shape and supplement bodies and selves. The medieval and early modern phenomena of textual clothing and material texts, however, are not left to us entirely without comment, nor entirely without theorisation in their own age. That is to say, people then, as now, made parchment-dresses do intellectual work.

There’s a medieval tale of a Parisian scholar who appeared after death to his former master, ‘clad all in parchment written, with small letters written thereon’.1 Unsurprisingly, the dead scholar’s appearance raises questions for the master, one of which concerns the significance of the parchment-dress, and the words written on it: ‘what meant that garment that was so light, & the letters that was written thereupon’. If these things require explanation, the master’s question assumes that at least one thing about this strange scene can be taken for granted: that the garment is ‘light’. He thinks he knows, from experience, the feel and weight of parchment. Logical deduction, however, is precisely what this tale is going to confound. The scholar explains that, in fact, each of the letters written on the parchment ‘are heavier unto me than were the weight of this great church’.

‘Saynt German’ (the Benedictine Abbey of Saint-Germain-de-Prés) in Paris.
‘Saynt German’ (the Benedictine Abbey of Saint-Germain-de-Prés) in Paris.

The church in question is ‘Saynt German’ (the Benedictine Abbey of Saint-Germain-de-Prés) in Paris. The weight of this vast and lofty edifice is the measure of the words of ‘sophisms & subtelties’ with which the scholar had occupied his time in life. So heavy, and so hot, is this dress that the scholar cannot describe, only demonstrate what it is like: he asks his master to put out his hand, onto which falls a drop—of sweat? a word?— which is so hot (or so heavy) that it makes a hole in it. Bearing the hole in his hand for the rest of his life, the master subsequently leaves off logic and becomes a monk.
How much does a medieval cathedral weigh? How many letters are on the parchment-dress? What’s the sum of each letter multiplied by the weight of the cathedral of Saint-Germain? Scholastic wisdom holds ‘sophisms’ (questions used in disputation for logic) and ‘subtelties’ (an extreme refinement of argument) to be, by definition, light: The Middle English Dictionary defines ‘sotilte’, for example, as ‘thinness, slenderness, smallness’. But the scholar’s experience after death shows them to weigh heavy indeed: a single letter is like to the stone and timber and lead of a great gothic structure. Salisbury Cathedral, for instance, was built of seventy thousand tons of stone and over three thousand tons of timber for the roof, which was covered with four hundred and fifty tons of lead. You can do the maths.

In medieval thought, words—even subtle ones—are always material, as another medieval tale found in the same collection shows: if due care is not taken in letting blood, words, along with blood, might accidentally be emptied from the body (See pp. 336-37). What the tale of the Parisian scholar also suggests is that words—spoken or inscribed on parchment—shape and alter the self. In some ways, then, this exemplary tale literalises the medieval understanding that words are material, exerting influence on material forms as well as immaterial selves, accruing and accreting to supplement the body and the way in which it signifies.

The form in which the tale of the parchment-dress survives, however, in turn materialises what is increasingly understood to be the always already prosthetic relationship between books and bodies. The tale ends by relating that the master ‘became a good man; & as long as he lived there was a hole through his hand. Et c.’ There are more words, then, but these are not recorded on the page, and so they are (to us) absent, immaterial, unweighable. Of eight hundred tales, one hundred and fifty end with Et c. Elsewhere Et c follows a rubric, or occurs mid-sentence—for example: ‘And thus because he trespassed in flesh & would not eat flesh when his abbot bade them therefore he was punished in flesh-eating, et c, for his inobediance’ (p. 452). The Et c suggests—what? That the reader can supply the Et c? That there is a generic way of carrying on reading that means the words don’t need to be given in full? Several times ‘ad libitum’ follows the ‘et c’: that is, ‘according to pleasure’. As you please. Whatever you like. However we explain it, the Et c here points out that the relationship between material book and embodied reader is always a prosthetic one, imagination or memory or desire bridging the animate and inanimate, the human and the object. Like the parchment-dress, Et c merely literalizes this relationship and makes the injunction to supplement, to fill in gaps explicit. By the same turn, it also leaves quantifying and qualifying out of reach. The weight of words, the multiple ways in which we wear the books we read, must always, finally, elude us.

 


1An Alphabet of Tales: An English Fifteenth Century Translation of the Alphabetum Narrationum, ed. Mary Macleod Banks, 2 vols. EETS o.s. 126-27 (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner, 1904-05), pp. 104-05. I have modernised the orthography.

100 Dubliners: A Small Display

Several times a year, Senate House Library provides small displays to support academic conferences. The Library demonstrates thereby that the items in its special collections, far from being museum pieces, are relevant for research. Conference delegates are able tangibly to see some of the items talked about and items of related interest, as well as realising the availability of resources that they can return to consult later on.

100 Dubliners, celebrating the centenary of the publication of James Joyce’s first book of fiction, presented a certain challenge on the display front. Displays rely on attractive exhibits, and James Joyce’s Dubliners (1914) is not, in its first edition, an attractive book – in fact,

James Joyce, 'Dubliners',
James Joyce, ‘Dubliners’ (London, Richards, 1914); cover.

it is a rather drab one. Yet it had to be the centrepiece of any display based on Dubliners, and perhaps the very drabness, from the point of view of the materiality of the book, is useful in demonstrating the modest beginnings of a book which was to become a landmark in the history of literary modernism, of Irish literature, and of the short story form, but which had a long and rocky pre-publication history.

CPH_1614-1
James Joyce, ‘Dubliners’ (London: Richards, 1914); title page.

Drabness, indeed, was nothing unusual, as is clear from the display of two roughly contemporaneous books which are better looking only in having their title pages in red and black. George Moore’s The Untilled Field (1903) is considered by some to be the progenitor of the Irish short story, and credited as an influence on Dubliners. And W.B. Yeats’s Poems, 1899-1905 (1906) was chosen for display because of Yeats’s friendship with and influence on James Joyce, and for reference within Dubliners to the Celtic Twilight.

The first edition of Joyce’s Finnegans Wake (1939) was selected for display on the basis of its oblique reference to the alleged burning of an edition of Dubliners by its Dublin publisher in 1912. The Wake is not much prettier than the earlier volumes, but it does reflect the status of a by now established writer. The copy is one of an edition limited to 425 numbered copies, signed by the author, and the margins are unusually large: 4 cm for the outer margin, and 6 for the bottom margin (5.5 cm below the page number).

'Hanna & Neale’s New Large-Scale Plan of Dublin'
‘Hanna & Neale’s New Large-Scale Plan of Dublin’

Unappreciated in the years leading up to 1914, Dubliners had become well and truly canonised by the time the Dolmen Press brought out its edition in 1986, illustrated by Dublin-born painter Louis le Brocquy. Visually, it would be the drawing point of the display, were it not for Hanna & Neale’s New Large-Scale Plan of Dublin, showing Dublin as it was about one hundred years ago. Joyce, incidentally, frequented their bookshop …

Perversions of Paper

Perversions of Paper comprises two events, an invitational workshop on 20 June 2014 and a one-day symposium on 28 June 2014. Both events investigate the outer limits of our interactions with books, manuscripts and paper. They consider unorthodox engagements with texts, from cherishing or hoarding them to mutilating and desecrating them, from wearing them to chewing them, and from inhaling their scent to erasing their content. ‘Perversion’ may apply to deviations from normal usage but also to our psychological investments in paper. To talk of having a fetish for books is common, but is there more to this than merely well-worn cliché? These events provide for reflections on perverse uses of – and relationships with – paper and parchment. What part do books, manuscripts and other written artefacts play in our imaginary and psychic lives, and what complex emotional attachments do we develop towards them? Also, how might literary studies or cultural history register these impulses and acts; what kind of methodologies are appropriate?

Registrations are now open for the one day symposium on 28 June 2014. The programme and registration information can be found at www.perversionsofpaper.com. Inquiries can be emailed to Gill Partington (g.partington@bbk.ac.uk).

perversionsofopaper webflyer (2)

Perversions of Paper is jointly sponsored by the Birkbeck Material Texts Network and the Archive Futures Research Network.

Gill Partington and Maryanne Dever​

A Brief History of our Events

Over the past five years the Material Texts Network has convened a series of conferences and symposia exploring the book as a physical object. The focus of these events has been the tactility and tangibility of the page as much as its meanings, or what it is we do with books as well as (and instead of) reading them. The aim and ethos has been to transcend periodization and disciplinary specialisms, bringing scholars from diverse backgrounds together with artists, writers and cultural practitioners to discuss the nature of the material page, its possibilities and limitations, its quirks and singularities as well as its historical uses, misuses and aberrations. Since 2010 we have staged On Paper, Book Destruction, Missing Texts, and A Humument; Treatments, Reflections, Responses. The next event, Perversions of Paper, will be held in June this year.

on paperOn Paper: A Symposium Exploring the Meanings of the Material Page in the Digital Era (April 2010)
Organisers: Heather Tilley and Gill Partington

The publicity poster announced this as ‘a day of short presentations and paper fondling followed by a response by Leah Price of Harvard University’.

With predictable irony, Professor Price pulled out of this inaugural Material Texts Network conference at short notice, having suffered back strain lifting a suitcase full of books, but the paper fondling went ahead without her in the splendidly august surroundings of Beveridge Hall, Senate House. There were presentations about the pages of graphic novels, the fetishisation of print, medieval graffiti, Renaissance collage, nineteenth-century serials, the notebooks of Antonin Artaud and embossed books for the blind.

Papers on paper were given by Tony Venezia, Maggie Gray, Zara Dinnen, Henderson Downing, Anthony Bale, Ros Murray, Adam Smyth, and Heather Tilley. Professor Esther Leslie acted as respondent for the day, and book artist Linda Toigo presented her unique handmade, interactive  edition of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. She also romped home with first prize in the lunchtime origami competition.

The conference received funding from the AHRC National Research Training scheme in Language and Literature, Palaeography and the History of the Book, and also from In the Shadow of Senate House, a research project based at Birkbeck College.

 

gillblackA4Book Destruction (April 2011)
Organisers: Adam Smyth and Gill Partington

The destruction of the written word has huge symbolic potency, but the aim of this event was to sidestep conventional reactions in order to explore an alternative history of the book’s misuses, asking firstly about the methods and reasons for its disposal, mutilation, dismemberment and reuse, and secondly what they might reveal about our changing cultural investments in the printed page. Once again we were in the beautiful Beveridge Hall, which reverberated with shock at the opening revelation that one of the conference convenors was a  known book burner, having once carelessly ignited a box of paperbacks and set fire to her own flat. The event made it into the local newspaper.

Different modes of destruction structured the day, with panels on burning, cutting, recycling and digitizing. Once again, participants were drawn from a diverse backgrounds and period specialisms, and papers ranged across such eclectic topics as Hancock’s Half Hour, George Eliot, Early Modern Broadsides, taking scissors to bibles in the Renaissance, 1970s German children’s literature, and François Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451. Speakers, coming from Hawaii, Mainz and points in between were Adam Smyth, Corinna Norrick, Gabriel Egan, Brooke Palmieri, Bonnie Mak, Gill Partington, Katherine Inglis, Rebecca Knuth, Harriet Phillips and Lucy Razzall.  We were also joined by two artists, Nicola Dale and Ross Birrell, who gave presentations about their uses of the book as a medium. They brought their work along to display, as did other artists, including Linda Toigo and Michael Hampton. Birrell’s looped video footage of books being destroyed with cheese graters and hacksaws made for a strangely mesmeric backdrop to the papers, and this complex relationship between destruction and artistic creation was also the central theme of the keynote address from Professor Kate Flint of UCSC, who explored the ‘altered book’ as an emerging artistic form.

The conference was developed into a collection of essays and interviews, Book Destruction in the West, from the Medieval to the Contemporary, forthcoming in 2014 with Palgrave Macmillan and edited by Adam Smyth and Gill Partington.

 

missing textMissing Texts (June 2012)
Organisers: Adam Smyth and Gill Partington

In 2012 we relocated to the Keynes Library, Gordon Square for Missing Texts, a symposium about gaps, empty spaces, erasure, ellipses and fragments. If the destruction of a book is a moment when its materiality becomes inescapable, then so, paradoxically, is the absence of text. Scholars often have to ‘read’ what isn’t there, but what can empty pages, redactions, blank spaces and torn out leaves tell us? What about the kind of texts that scholars in earlier periods routinely deal with, which simply don’t exist at all, are lost or even apocryphal, appearing only in second-hand accounts? What methods and approaches do we use in these instances?

Approaching this topic from a variety of different angles were Daniel Wakelin, Jason Scott-Warren, Heather Tilley, Caroline Archer, Karen Britland, Gill Partington, Patrick Davison, Eleanor Collins, Luisa Calé and Bethan Stevens. Topics under discussion included deleted YouTube comments, Algernon Swinburne’s censored writing, English Civil War ciphers, imagined omissions in Medieval manuscripts, and lost early modern books. Once again there was a strong emphasis on visual culture, with talks on the lost art collections of Charles I, missing paintings and the concept of ekphrasis, as well as the artist John Latham’s infamous performance of book eating.

Bookshop and exhibition space X Marks the Bokship kindly loaned us a fascinating collection of books with holes, gaps, blank pages and bits cut out. We went bowling afterwards.

The symposium became the basis for a special edition of Critical Quarterly in December 2013, edited by Adam Smyth and Gill Partington.

 

 humument posterA Humument: Treatments, Reflections, Responses (July 2013)
Organisers: Adam Smyth and Gill Partington

This symposium was devoted to an exploration of a single text.  Tom Phillips’s A Humument is a unique work – part poem, part art object – created by overwriting, augmenting, illustrating and erasing someone else’s words. In 1966 Phillips bought a second hand copy of WH Mallock’s nineteenth-century melodrama, A Human Document, and for nearly fifty years has been working and then reworking each page. The fifth edition of this ‘treated Victorian novel’ has now been issued by Thames and Hudson, and to celebrate this event we invited Phillips himself to be our guest as we subjected it to our own reflections, responses and treatments.

Participants were Holly Pester, Gill Partington, Dennis Duncan, Tony Venezia, Zara Dinnen, Alex Latter, Adam Smyth and Luisa Calé who discussed A Humument in relation to various topics including the visual poetics of modernism, digital editions of McSweeney’s journal, experimental literature of erasure and blankness, comics, Early-Modern cut-up bible collages, and the composite page in nineteenth-century art. Phillips remained gracious and good-humoured through all of it, despite the distractions of a tense score in the Ashes Test. To close, there was a question and answer session with the writer and critic James Kidd.