ENGL759C - Seminar in Literature and the Other Arts; Book Lab: How To Do Things With Books

The bite of lead type into handmade paper where ink pools in the recesses pressed by the weight of the letters; a literal subtext surfaced through acts of creative erasure on the page; the hot liquid polymers of 3D-printed shapes, deposited in tiny incremental layers to make words and images; lines of circuitry written into lines of text and animated with current; a book that tweets at you; a book that is also a toy box; a book that becomes what the poet and printer William Blake once called an “unam’d form.” Taught with the resources and facilities available in our BookLab (Tawes 3248), this course will be a historical, imaginative, and experiential introduction to the multitudinous forms of what is not the oldest but is surely to be among the most enduring human technologies.


Our work will be organized around practical and in-depth explorations of different elements of the codex: letterpress printing with traditional lead (movable) type, papermaking, paper marbling, bookbinding, 3-D printing, treated books, and so on. Class-time will be a mix of discussion and hands-on activity. Using BookLab’s rich collections we will look at the work of established book artists like Amaranth Borsuk, Anne Carson, Brian Dettmer, Johanna Drucker, Caitlin Fisher, and Claudia Rankine as well as historical predecessors like Blake; we will examine the genre and form of the chapbook in the poetry and small press world; we will try out various experiments with books at the interface between print and the digital, including examples of books as portals for augmented and virtual reality; we’ll spend time with graphic novels and other innovative approaches to the space of the page; we’ll read at least one mixed media novel, likely something by Mark Danielewski; and we will discuss throughout the politics of books as some of the most powerful instruments ever made for consolidating and exercising social hegemony as well as books as tactical platforms for resistance. We will read in different periods of literary studies as well as intellectual history, media studies, and the arts. Scholars will include Borsuk (again), Patricia Crain, Drucker (again), Lori Emerson, Lisa Gitelman, Amy Hungerford, Adrian Johns, Lee Konstantinou, Kari Kraus, Jerome McGann, Tom Mole, Jessica Pressman, Leah Price, Garrett Stewart, Ted Striphas, Nicholas Thoburn, Marta Werner, Sarah Werner, and many more. In addition, we will enjoy visits and workshops from several critics and artists, as well as at least one excursion to the nearby studios of Pyramid Atlantic (one of the preeminent book arts studios in the country)—as well as, I hope, the Folger’s conservation lab.


Given that “the” book, as artifact, serves to unite periods and fields throughout the discipline of English (including writing and rhetoric), this course should appeal to students in any subject area or historical period. It will be particularly useful to MFA students, as well as students for whom the literary is also a category of material media. Students from Art History, Communication, Women’s Studies, and Studio Arts will be at home; and it fulfills the praxis requirement of the Digital Studies certificate. Requirements will include response papers (to take the form of postings to the class discussion board), presentations, a portfolio of ongoing exercises and experiments, and a substantial final project, which can take the form of a scholarly essay, a creative production, a digital project, or something else. No prior knowledge of the book arts or of any particular tools is expected or assumed.

Meets the Theory, Genre, or Rhetoric and the Modern & Contemporary requirement in the MA Literature track