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

The bite of lead or wood type into handmade paper where ink pools in the recesses pressed by the weight of the letters; a literal subtext on the page surfaced through acts of erasure; the hot liquid polymers of 3D-printed objects, deposited in tiny incremental layers to make shapes; 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 “unnam’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 among the most enduring of human technologies, the codex book.


Our work will be organized around practical and in-depth explorations of different elements of the codex: papermaking, letterpress printing with traditional lead (movable) and wood type, bookbinding, 3-D printing, altered and treated books, and more. Class-time will be a mix of discussion and hands-on activity. Using BookLab’s rich collections we will look at the work of contemporary book artists and printers 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 a mixed media novel such as Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves; 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. In addition, we will enjoy excursions to the nearby studios of Pyramid Atlantic (one of the preeminent book arts studios in the country) and other nearby venues.


The course will culminate in each student's production of their own book object (broadly defined). No prior book arts experience is expected or assumed. However, all participants must be willing to engage in hands-on, experiential learning, work cooperatively with others, and pursue work in formats other than the traditional seminar paper.