Artefact Books: Towards a Multi-field Analytical Framework for Literary Research
Smith, Jennifer Dawn
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While the most fundamental object of literary studies is often the codex, in this age of digital and electronic sensory inundation, it would seem that the physical book has a limited lifespan. However, the technologies continually vying to supersede the codex are instead enabling the development of different kinds of printed objects. Some of these new books transmit information in a unique way that cannot be replicated or replaced by other media such as television, the Internet, or even e-books. I have chosen the phrase "artefact book" to distinguish these works from traditional books and artists' books. The quality of the reading experience offered and demanded by artefact books is vital for paper publishing and concomitant literary studies in the face of digital and multimedia competition. The problematic ontology of artists' books has prevented both literary and artistic discourses from embracing them wholeheartedly. In essence, artefact books are those whose originators conscientiously incorporate the areas of text, art, craft, and publishing to create books that embody the originators' ideas and transport them to their readers. Within the context of literary studies, there are historical figures--William Blake, William Morris, and Laurence Sterne--who pioneered the kinds of developments that made the existence of artefact books possible. Pierre Bourdieu's field theory forms the methodological basis for investigating artefact books and their relationship with artists' books and literature, as it is the most useful way to bring the sociological turn of material culture and book history to bear on artistic and textual scholarship. The main focus of the dissertation is on the following three artefact books: Scraps of an Aborted Collaboration by Erica Van Horn (1994); READ (past, tense) by Heather Weston (2000); and York by Paul Salt (2006). Each of these books is investigated thoroughly in the context of the four subfields of text, art, craft, and publishing. The case studies demonstrate a way for scholars to synthesize their investigations using the theoretical tools of bibliography, textual analysis, art and book history, material culture, sociological field theory, and publishing studies to elucidate artefact books. The creation of this interdisciplinary framework makes it possible for artefact books, now recognizable as a robust subset of the as-yet-undefined genre of artists' books, to be analyzed within literary criticism and the field of cultural production.
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