Skip to main content

Personal project write-up 7/14

4 min read

The articles that I spent my time reading this week were incredibly relevant to my project and very useful for articulating the argument that I am attempting to make through my remediation project. I began with the introduction to Leah Price’s book, How to Do Things With Books, building on her idea that the ways people interact with books—by reading, handling, and circulating—always overlap. Although many attempt to separate out the text from the book through value judgments, Price argues that the book has a “Janus-faced potential,” because it is bounded to its medium, and yet “credited with the power to free its users” through their interactions with the text (5). As texts move towards the digital, Price insists that the idealization of digital texts as printed texts “flattens the range of uses to which the book was put before digital media came along to compete with it”—the uses of handling and circulating (7). The book object links us not only to the author of the text, but also all of the people who have touched the book before us. This concept is echoed by both Gitelman in Media as Historical Subjects and Marshall McLuhan in The Medium is the Message. Gitelman points out that old media remains meaningful even when new media emerges, offering people an opportunity to encounter the past that created the media representation (5). Quoting, McLuhan, Gitelman agrees that “each new medium represents its predecessors” (4); in The Medium is the Message, McLuhan illustrates how the content of each medium is always another medium, with speech comprising writing and writing comprising print (1).

These ideas really helped me conceptualize my awe of the 18th century novels that we handle every day, which is really what inspired me to pursue this project. So much goes into creating code for each book; and yet so much more has already happened with its creation, design, ownership, and distribution. What I want more than anything is to understand, in an organized and distinct way, the individual processes that have shaped this one book. And yet, that’s impossible: the text, book, object, medium are not only inseparable, but also form relationships that demand a historical perspective and a social understanding to identify. Even after basing my project’s argument on the fact that one cannot examine a book/text/object with clearly separated categories, I could not even sort the potential categories that I wanted to illustrate and then disprove in my remediation. The text is a book that is an object which contains the text, and the medium of the text can be digital or manuscript or print, but the medium of this book (that is an object) is print, although it also contains manuscript and has been digitized (is that an object?) into a text that is not a book but is an object???

Despite my immense headache, the introduction and first chapter of Bonnie Mak’s How the Page Matters totally nailed (with devastating, even terrifying, accuracy) the point that I am trying to get at—that the page itself (isolated from my confusion regarding the book/text/object) embodies its own ideas, through “simultaneous, overlapping, mutually responsive, complementary, contradictory” strategies, not tied exclusively to one platform or mode of production (5). As an interface between designer and reader, anyone who writes, revises, or configures a page leaves “clues about how the pages matters to them and how they wish it to matter to others” (5). The page is evidence about it’s own history, with the meanings formed by readers based upon the materiality of each page. In Mak’s words, the page is “an interface, standing at center of complicated dynamic of intention and reception;” it is the material manifestation of an ongoing conversation through time (21).

With Mak’s conception of the page in mind, I am currently mapping out what each page of my edition of the text will look like. I plan to label each letter in stages of hand, print, and code, with the intention of eventually letting the complexity of the categorization overwhelm the text itself. I hope the process and the development of the material product will call into question the role of readers, designers, and catalogers in influencing the text, as well as how the text itself exists in various, changing forms of media.