Wednesday, February 22, 2012

History of the Book.3

Continued from Part 1 and Part 2

For various reasons, that “summer trip to the West Coast” has now lasted seven years. I’m surprised those books I made years ago have survived like they have, considering how much I did not know what I was doing. Of course, it didn’t hurt that I was salvaging from more solidly assembled structures. But still.

Which leads me back to that space between the second and third dimensions, and the challenge of addressing it in a venue as seemingly flat as, say, a blog. Because this is where I’ve been channeling that energy—once reserved for dissembling and mashing up longer-form, structural narratives—into compressed one- and two-shot collages.* There are a couple of reasons for this:

1. My attention span has waned, what with the Internet and all that. I try to fight it in some arenas, but since the blog is a medium suited to quick little glimpses, I figure this is one battle not to pick. Also, I finished writing a novel last year, and since then, most things I do—whether writing (flash fiction) or art (collage as blog posts)—want to be microcosmic.

2. Binding kind of stresses me out. I love the results: a sturdiness that allows for shifts as you turn the page. But there’s a commitment there that’s scary. Besides, I’ve never really gotten the math down.

So there is a kind of liberation in the blogged collages, in that they are both low commitment and ephemeral. I can knock one out in an evening if I want, and I don’t have to worry about it lasting. Once I’ve placed it in the scanner, and made sure any wayward details are straightened, I can shove it in a milk crate and forget about it. If for some reason in the future, I try and dig it back out to hang on a wall, and it crumbles in my hands, I’m okay with that: I’ve prepared myself. Anything that survives is—if not a miracle—a bonus.

Because all that matters here is the scan, those few crucial seconds after the lid closes when the light cranks by. And here’s where it’s hard not to think of the scanner as a book. Its design seems modeled after the codex, doesn’t it? And it “reads” the things you put inside it, a fleeting act that ends up feeling kind of like a fossil record. A mummification in the ether. An anti-binding, maybe? Or at least a binding that takes place in some unnamed dimension.

There is a whole genre of scanner art, I’ve discovered, called scanography (scannography) or scanner photography—where images use the technology of the scanner in their composition. Just as zine aesthetics (and Xerox art) came about through the advent of the photocopier, the accessibility of the scanner has created an aesthetic of its own.

One thing I’ve thought about is how zine aesthetics changed a lot when photocopiers digitized and Kinko’s became harder to scam. As zine makers have focused more on using pre-Xerox printing techniques, such as silkscreen and letterpress, there seems to be less of an emphasis on the textural nature of collage. This makes me wonder about the future of the scanner: what might be marketed to take its place? That’s why it’s good, I guess, that I’m trying to become less reliant on—and take take less comfort in—technologies that are ultimately temporary.

The book, though, is not one of those technologies—despite the hand wringing that’s happening with the spread of ebooks. The physical book is becoming increasingly fetishized as it threatens to disappear, and with it, I think, the sense of touch. Although all our coveted devices are sold to us by boasting features such as touchpads and touchscreens, once we step away for a second, we see how flat these things really are. And what about CGI? These “3D” creations would deflate with a fart if you tried to grasp them. A simple line drawing is more dimensional than CGI's special effect placebos. So, yeah, there's my side-rant, and I guess my point is this: there is a longing, I think, beneath all this prognosed dematerialization, for something you can hold in your hands. And that longing is here to stay.

So the neglect I’ve been giving bookmaking lately is temporary. I'll return to it, I promise myself, after I tire of the fun I'm having completing things that can remain incomplete. In the meantime, I like the challenge of trying to bring tactility—or at least the illusion of it—to the often textureless realm of the Internet. I also like the freedom of being able to incorporate three-dimensional elements that I couldn’t in a book whose pages must ultimately lie flat (the scanner's fine with not closing all the way). Who knows? Maybe one day, when blogs are obsolete, I can come full circle and take on the challenge of translating this blog's content into a physical book. How's that for completion?

*I’ve only made a couple altered books since I’ve been on the West Coast: Tarpaulin Kingdom and The Witch, a Lemondrop Wedged Firmly In Her Cheek, Begins Her Evening Prayers.

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