People of the Book is an interview series gathering those engaged with books, broadly defined. As participants answer the same set of questions, their varied responses chart an informal ethnography of the book, highlighting its rich history as a mutable medium and anticipating its potential future. This week brings the conversation to Brad Pasanek, assistant professor at the University of Virginia, whose work questions the “mind as metaphor” through hands-on literature, app-books, and digital humanities.
1. How do you define a “book”?
Brad Pasanek. Photo by Dan Addison.
Almost immediately, I want to turn that question back: what isn’t a book? Or refer it to the eighteenth century, where I find the term coyly defined in Nathan Bailey’s Dictionarium Britannicum as “a thing well known” and extensively, in Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary, as “a volume in which we read or write.” The other book-people interviewed here (librarians, bibliographers, etc.) will be nicer of definition, I’m sure. But in an English department the book stands as a metonym of literature and learning. And it stands metaphorically for more besides. I call to mind commonplaces from antiquity and the Middle Ages: the book of the life, the Law written in the “tables of the heart.” Galileo and Bacon encouraged the Moderns to collate bibles and the codex naturae. The face is as legible as any page; infancy is a blank slate. And so on.
People of the Book is an interview series gathering those engaged with books, broadly defined. As participants answer the same set of questions, their varied responses chart an informal ethnography of the book, highlighting its rich history as a mutable medium and anticipating its potential future. This week brings the conversation to Debra Di Blasi, Founder and Publisher of Jaded Ibis Productions.
1. How do you define a “book”?
Photo of the simulacrum of the book titled, “Debra Di Blasi”
While a visual art student at Kansas City Art Institute in the early 1980s, I took a course in bookmaking and artists’ books. This was after I’d already studied creative writing and journalism at a state university and therefore had a narrow view of “book.” I scheduled a private tour of The Nelson-Atkins Museum’s of artist books where some of the greatest artists played with the concept of “book.” One of our tasks as art students was to be inventive, to question the “formula” for “book” as a “container” of ideas. We broke down the parts—binding, cover, page, ink, contents, size and shape—and questioned and explored their possibilities by making our own books. Once you start down that slope you inevitably arrive at the question, “Who made the old rules and why should I follow them?”
In 1998, while teaching experimental writing forms at the same art institute from which I’d graduated, I began to seriously bend the definition of “book” with the inception of The Jiri Chronicles. The 13-year “book without boundaries” project grew from one mixed media story to eventually include over 500 individual works of prose, poetry, video, audio interviews, websites, music, consumer products and, yes, physical books like The Jiri Chronicles and Other Fictions (FC2/University of Alabama Press) and two poetry collections written by the late Jiri Cech. (Cech died in 2011 when he was allegedly eaten by lions in Botswana; his body was never recovered.) Most of Jiri’s products—like his books, CDs, clothing, and perfume—are extant; others vanished into the www-dot ethersphere. The Chronicles was, I see now, my first efforts toward an experiential “book”—a serious attempt to dissolve distinctions between real life and fictive life in the same way children (used to?) play imaginary roles in a physical environment.Continue Reading
This post was written by John Rodzvilla, Emerson College’s Electronic Publisher-in-Residence.
There has always been somewhat of an unrealized promise of interactivity with digital literature. It should be more than an enhanced experience of the print original, but still reflect the intentions of the artists. The Electronic Literature movement has tried to legitimize and broadcast new formats from a variety of different artists and authors that expand the experience of literature. Authors of interactive fiction and alternative reality games have also taken the idea of story to a more immersive and interactive level. While these art forms are supported by a vibrant and active community, there the perennial question on monetization and distribution.
At the other end of the spectrum, trade literature has only just started to test the waters of enhanced content. For example, Michael Chabon’s latest novel, Telegraph Avenue has an enhanced digital edition that comes with an author interview, audio excerpts, a custom map of the locations within the novel, special designs from the artist Stainboy and an original theme song. The material is fun and enhances the reader’s experience, but it still controls the experience because, let’s face it, interactivity can be scary. The notion that authors should give up control of their world so that readers can interact and create new material is not something every wordsmith wants. There has always been this implicit relationship between artist/ writer and reader: I make. You buy and/ or experience.