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Book arts as political statement / Brian Dettmer, book-artist

Finally got around to making a project out of this book. Granted, it’s a modest attempt, but that’s the fun thing about making books– you can put them together from junk paper lying around the house. The cover of this one is an old sheet of watercolor paper that someone used to clean rubber stamps.

Uh oh, Esther Smith has another book, too. Look out, wallet.

There are a healthy number of institutions devoted to preserving and teaching book arts; many major cities in the United States have them, by way of example (Philadelphia, San Francisco, New York, Minneapolis, oh, there’s tons more). Google Live Search book arts in a town near you, there’s gonna be one there.

I bring this up because I am curious about this craft, in the context of print media’s often forecasted demise. I came across an interesting debate about this topic, which I highly recommend to those in the Luddosphere. The article discusses whether written words will ultimately have a useful and longer life on paper or in pixels: should all text be “searchable, discoverable, linkable, part of the conversation,” or is it true that the unedited, unprofessional digi-screeds of the masses (cough cough) are by definition etherial and destined for deletion?

I find this subject fascinating. Do you? It seems that book arts are more popular than ever before, as evidenced by the endless institutions devoted to the craft. I wonder if this bears any reactionary relation to the fact that the digital age seems hell-bent on removing tactile experience from all forms of media.

Kind of makes the typewriter journal a political statement. (Did you sign up yet?)

Changing the subject somewhat: Brian Dettmer, book artist

Probably a subject for a separate post: the typewriter is not the only 20th century icon of literature being eviscerated for museum display. Brian Dettmer creates sculptures (called “book autopsies” in the case of books) from all manner of fading communications media: records, tapes, books, maps. Of such media, he is quoted as saying “their intended role has decreased or deceased and they often exist simply as symbols of the ideas they represent rather than true conveyers of content.”

I have two reactions to this kind of increasingly popular transmogrification of media into symbol. My less sophisticated reaction: it’s grisly and some could argue disrespectful, like Bodies: the exhibition. It implies that language is entirely separate from the forms that carry and create it, and the latter has no lasting value save for irony.

A more nuanced reaction might be this: I love technology, and the fact that it makes possible the sharing of ideas like these with like-minded people. I don’t want to go back to pre-digital times. But I’d like to think digital communication can be used in the service of good: to preserve, cherish, and even further the use and enjoyment of iconic, fascinating, and useful creations like books and typewriters. Centers for book arts, like those I mentioned above, are exactly the kinds of places where the benefits of technology and tradition can intersect for the public good.

Center for the preservation and perserverence of the typewriter, anyone? Any venture capitalists out there with me?

Update: Brian Dettmer’s work is currently on display in Chicago, at the Packer Schopf gallery. The page I just linked to has an interesting analysis of “object-based media” in the digital age, and the meaning behind Dettmer’s work:

Books age like humans: they become discolored and stiff, and eventually their pages crumble into dust. Dettmer’s tactile book-sculptures are metaphors for the decline of natural, physical media in the face of the digital, which escapes the laws of nature through lacking any single physical form. At the same time, the sheer volume and solidity of these paper peaks and valleys suggest a sense of stability and soundness that digital information necessarily lacks. We see in Dettmer’s books the simultaneous vulnerability and resilience of material forms.

I do think this is a compelling topic to explore in art, but I can’t say I take any aesthetic pleasure in the destruction of books and typewriters to make a statement. That doesn’t necessarily mean that I universally denigrate the work of artists like Dettmer, however. I just wonder if there is a different way that art could explore this issue. Thoughts?

Typecast: In which some visual effects distract from a lack of theme

Did I mention that I am getting a little desk of sorts to replace the notorious Dave?

So, this Hermes 3000 and I, we don’t have the best relationship. It just sits there like a stubborn turtle with its arching, spoon-handle carriage return lever and chicklet keys and crumbling, duct-taped platen knobs, and I can’t seem to see what Larry McMurtry sees in this machine.

What I want to know is, where the rest of you clock in on the Hermes 3000? It’s the Cadillac of typewriters, right? Someone set me straight here.

2008 in type

Did I mention the story above turns out improbably well? For the relative, not for the fate of typewriters, I mean.

Ah, the Old Mill is the name of the place we were, thank you interweb. I hear a recent fire did some damage to the structure.

Enough about me. While we’re sitting here drinking moonshine and reminiscing about the year in typewriters, what was your favorite typewriting moment in 2008?

Video blogs, floaty pens.

I’ve always been a little annoyed by internet video. The buffering wait times bring to mind the 56 kpbs download days, where you’d sit there and watch an image on your screen inchworm itself into existence while your blood pressure ticked up a notch. I vowed I’d stay away from this so-called innovation as a blogger, but then these darned fancy little Flip cameras came along, and here I am thinking about doing some videocasting about typewriters and pens and whatnot. Because you can only take so many videos of your kid.

Trying to brainstorm topics… Stalking typewriters at thrift stores? Live pen comparison tests?

***a few hours later***

Ok, not exactly Wim Wenders here, and not even a Flip camera (rather, an old Canon Elph) but here is some poorly executed stalker footage I took of the many dozens of typewriters that line the shelves of Island Books on Mercer Island, Washington. The typewriters line many walls of the store, this is just one section. They are all on the top of a very high bookshelf, thus, I had to hold the camera aloft, surely looking insane in the process. Luckily, only the bookseller was present at the time, since it was right after the place opened on a glum, post-Christmas Sunday.

I will try in earnest to supply superior footage to this in future filming attempts.

Moving on to floaty pens.

There is a floaty pen blogger out there. Check it out. Thus far I have learned that quality varies in the floaty pen world, and that one would do best to focus on those made by the Eskesen company, which explains floating action technology on its Web site.


I remembered that a friend of mine and my husband’s had once been in the habit of gifting my husband with floaty pens. Thus, I banished him to the attic on a 30 degree night to rummage in boxes of old office supplies until he descended, covered in spiders and fiberglass wisps, with a bundle of pens in his hand. May I also mention that he rolled his eyes.

Click the photos for a closer look, although getting a good shot of floaty pens isn’t the easiest trick in the amateur scanner’s handbook.

Keitai shosetsu, fake Christmas trees.

You know those Christmas specials that you watch on the tube every holiday season, the one with the stop motion reindeer, for example, and the Charlie Brown and Grinch classics, and all that? Well, I may have failed to mention my own humble contribution to the form, scribbled on a piece of paper several bored Christmases ago. I like to re-run it on the site annually, in place of actual content updates, in the same spirit as the Christmas specials themselves.

Unrelatedly, cell phone fiction is here. All you Nanowrimists are already familiar with the form, to some extent: speed-written, no looking back. Well, flex your thumbs, because you may be texting your next 30-day literary masterwork in November 2009. All the rage in Japan for some time (even making their way to print, and bestseller status), the cell phone novel may well be the future of fiction, as the once mighty publishing houses collapse upon themselves like the Kingdome in 2000. Can’t wait until November to secure your place on the bandwagon? Make haste to Textnovel at once, and commence thumbing in service of literary evolution.

Is this a challenge? Perhaps eventually, when I upgrade to a cell phone that does something more high-tech than dropping calls.


Well, I would have updated earlier today, but according to Seattle weather forecasters, I was shoveling my house out from neck-deep snow all afternoon. Except that I wasn’t. Yes, that’s right, every school district in a 50 mile radius closed shop for a cloud day.

So, I guess I have no excuse. Rats. However, I did have time to read this Slate article about the demise of print media, which includes the following body count of technologies and/or industries felled by the digital age:

• Bank tellers
• Typewriters
• Typesetting
• Carburetors
• Vacuum tubes
• Slide rules
• Disc jockeys
• Stockbrokers
• Telephone operators
• Yellow pages
• Repair guys
• Bookbinders
• Pimps (displaced by the cell phone and the Web)
• Cassette and reel-to-reel recorders
• VCRs
• Turntables
• Video stores
• Record stores
• Bookstores
• Recording industry
• Courier/messenger services
• Travel agencies
• Print and cinematic porn
• Porn actors
• Stenographers
• Wired telcos
• Drummers
• Toll collectors (slayed by the E-ZPass)
• Book publishing (especially reference works)
• Conventional-watch makers
• “Browse” shopping
• U.S. Postal Service
• Printing-press makers
• Film cameras
• Kodak (and other film-stock makers)

(Great, there goes one of my unwritten Strikethru rules, which is to never offer the possibility of “porn” ending up as a search term on the site). I’m kind of wanting to play Amazing Grace on the bagpipes after reading through this list. Are there any line items you dispute? (I’m stratching my head over “repair guys,” myself. And *someone* is posing for all that internet porn). Are there any they left out?

Abandoned SFO

A pal of mine posted a link in Facebook to Abandoned SFO, a terminal at San Francisco International Airport that was closed to the public in 2002. Sad, and lovely.

The photographer, Troy Paiva, also runs the site Lost America.

Obituary in print

I’ve usually got both of them open in the mornings, the mildly grimy, 3 year old Apple powerbook covered with faded Elmo stickers, alongside a section of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (although I quit coffee a few years back).

Publishing 2.0 is a fascinating read, in addition to the New York Times article linked to from the front page of the Publishing 2.0 site, Content and its Discontents (go on, register for the NYT online, worth it). The article is about how the revolution in content delivery will necessitate a change to content itself:

“All of the fascinating, particular, sometimes beautiful and already quaint ways of organizing words and images that evolved in the previous centuries — music reviews, fashion spreads, page-one news reports, action movies, late-night talk shows — are designed for a world that no longer exists.”

Quite a sweeping statement.

Did I mention that the first half of this post was brought to you by a Gold Fibre antique ivory writing pad and a USA General 931T pencil?

A vexing question for the typecasting hive mind

Actually I had my vexing question answered. Leaving only the clown.

Typecast: A desk of one’s own

Pauletti Papers

This typecast was written with my Hermes 3000.