Post from 318, October 2010

Into the Realm of Books

Sunday, 3. October 2010 22:17

Jason Wilson wants to push the arguments in The Real Thing and More on Art Reproduction into the realm of books, and raises the question of preserving the author’s intent in electronic reproductions, citing as an example Mark Z. Danielewski’s Only Revolutions. I had not meant to exclude any art, but his point is well-taken.  In forwarding his argument, Jason quotes Cliff Gerrish’s Echovar, which suggests that the reading experience is, for Gerrish at least, about more than the words on the page; he is concerned about line breaks and the placement of words. Gerrish’s concern is well-founded; written art seems to lend itself to alteration by electronic reformatting, and there are books that would be completely ruined by reformatting

If the line breaks were all that mattered, then 10hotdogs8buns’s suggestion that an electronic reader capable of displaying a constantly-formatted page, such as could be rendered in a .pdf file would answer the issue. When I read Gerrish’s comments, I have the feeling that he is talking about more than just the arrangement of words on the page or the line breaks; he is talking about the experience of a conversation with the work. And just as in conversation with old friends, there is more to the experience than just the words. There is the camaraderie, the sights, the sounds, the smells, the sense of familiarity, the overtones and undertones, the environment that contribute to the communication that “conspire” with the speaker, or reader.  This sensory environment is very eloquently described by Charles Anthony Stewart quoted in Menachem Wecker’s Sept 23 Iconia:

The three senses were overwhelmed….the large books, as big as a desks [sic], covered in their ancient leather bindings; pages filled with ancient notes, smudged finger prints, and candle wax–and the smell resembling soot and offal; the texture of the parchments, rough with the pores, some still with attached hair. But in the midst of these earthy materials, were golden images and vibrant colors, as bright and brilliant as the day they were made! Somehow, I was transported back in time.

Obviously, there is much more going on here than just experiencing a book. The environment makes up an important part of the experience. The primary significance, however, is, in Gerrish’s words, a conversation between the viewer/reader and the work.  Once we reduce the experience to the interaction of those two elements, we are getting to the essence of the art experience.

If what the viewer/reader is interested in is gathering information, then advanced technology may be the way to go, provided that the presentation is at least adequate; it’s inexpensive and convenient. But those who are seeking the experience that the author/artist intended, who are seeking a real interaction with the work, will, if possible, want to experience the work in the format and medium that the author/artist initially chose. That viewer/reader will want to experience the page layout, the typography, the brush-stroke, the shifts in tonal values, the texture, the structure, the movement. That viewer/reader will want to experience the real thing.

Category:Aesthetics, Criticism | Comments (1) | Author: