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Anti-Book

On the Art and Politics of Radical Publishing

Nicholas Thoburn

No, Anti-Book is not a book about books. Not exactly. And yet it is a must for anyone interested in the future of the book. Presenting what he terms “a communism of textual matter,” Nicholas Thoburn explores the encounter between political thought and experimental writing and publishing, shifting the politics of text from an exclusive concern with content and meaning to the media forms and social relations by which text is produced and consumed. Taking a “post-digital” approach in considering a wide array of textual media forms, Thoburn invites us to challenge the commodity form of books—to stop imagining books as transcendent intellectual, moral, and aesthetic goods unsullied by commerce. His critique is, instead, one immersed in the many materialities of text.

Anti-Book engages with an array of writing and publishing projects, including Antonin Artaud’s paper gris-gris and Valerie Solanas’s SCUM Manifesto, Guy Debord’s sandpaper-bound Mémoires, the collective novelist Wu Ming, and the digital/print hybrid of Mute magazine. Empirically grounded, it is also a major achievement in expressing a political philosophy of writing and publishing, where the materiality of text is interlaced with conceptual production. Each chapter investigates a different form of textual media in concert with a particular concept: the small-press pamphlet as “communist object,” the magazine as “diagrammatic publishing,” political books in the modes of “root” and “rhizome,” the “multiple single” of anonymous authorship, and myth as “unidentified narrative object.”

An absorbingly written contribution to contemporary media theory in all its manifestations, Anti-Book will enrich current debates about radical publishing, artists’ books and other new genre and media forms in alternative media, art publishing, media studies, cultural studies, critical theory, and social and political theory.

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The Anxiety of Obsolescence

The American Novel in the Age of Television

Kathleen Fitzpatrick

It almost goes without saying that the rise in popularity of television has killed the audience for “serious" literature. This is such a given that reading Fitzpatrick's challenge to this notion can be very disconcerting, as she traces the ways in which a small cadre of writers of "serious" literature--DeLillo, Pynchon, and Franzen, for instance--have propagated this myth in order to set themselves up as the last bastions of good writing. Fitzpatrick first explores whether serious literature was ever as all-pervasive as critics of the television culture claim and then asks the obvious question: what, or who, exactly, are these guys defending good writing against? Fitzpatrick examines the ways in which the anxiety about the supposed death of the novel is built on a myth of the novel's past ubiquity and its present displacement by television. She explores the ways in which this myth plays out in and around contemporary fiction and how it serves as a kind of unacknowledged discourse about race, class, and gender. The declaration constructs a minority status for the “white male author” who needs protecting from television's largely female and increasingly non-white audience. The novel, then, is transformed from a primary means of communication into an ancient, almost forgotten, and thus, treasured form reserved for the well-educated and well-to-do, and the men who practice it are exalted as the practitioners of an almost lost art. Such positioning serves to further marginalize women writers and writers of color because it makes the novel, by definition, the preserve of the poor endangered white man. If the novel is only a product of a small group of white men, how can the contributions of women and writers of color be recognized? Instead, this positioning abandons women and people of color to television as a creative outlet, and in return, cedes television to them. Fitzpatrick argues that there's a level of unrecognized patronization in assuming that television serves no purpose but to provide dumb entertainment to bored women and others too stupid to understand novels. And, instead, she demonstrates the real positive effects of a televisual culture.

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Around the Book

Systems and Literacy

Henry Sussman

Amid radical transformation and rapid mutation in the nature, transmission, and deployment of information and communications, Around the Book offers a status report and theoretically nuanced update on the traditions and medium of the book. What, it asks, are the book's current prospects? The study highlights the most radical experiments in the book's history as trials in what the author terms the Prevailing Operating Systemat play within the fields of knowledge, art, critique, and science. The investigations of modern systems theory, as exemplified by Gregory Bateson, Anthony Wilden, and Niklas Luhmann, turn out to be inseparable from theoretically astute inquiry into the nature of the book.Sussman's primary examples of such radical experiments with the history of the book are Sei Shonagon's Pillow Book (both the text and Peter Greenaway's screen adaptation), Stphane Mallarm's Un coup de ds,Walter Benjamin's Arcades Project, Jacques Derrida's Glas, Maurice Blanchot's Death Sentence, and Franz Kafka's enduring legacy within the world of the graphic novel.In the author's hands, close reading of these and related works renders definitive proof of the book's persistence and vitality. The book medium, with its inbuilt format and program, continues, he argues, to supply the tablet or screen for cultural notation. The perennial crisis in which the book seems to languish is in fact an occasion for readers to realize fully their role as textual producers, to experience the full range of liberty in expression and articulation embedded in the irreducibly bookish process of textual display.

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The Art of Prestige

The Formative Years at Knopf, 1915-1929

Amy Root Clements

In the American book trade, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., and its inimitable logo featuring a borzoi wolfhound have come to signify the pinnacle of prestigious publishing. Launched in 1915 by a dynamic twenty-two-year-old and his refined fiancée, Blanche Wolf, the firm soon developed a reputation for excellence, quickly overcoming outsider status to forge a unique identity that has endured well past its founders’ lifetimes. Capturing the little-known early history of Knopf, The Art of Prestige explores the origins of the company’s rise to success during the Jazz Age, when Alfred and Blanche established themselves as literary impresarios on both sides of the Atlantic. Drawing on key archival documents from all phases of the publishing process, Amy Root Clements reconstructs the turning points and rhetorical exchanges that made Knopf’s initial books noteworthy, from the acquisitions process to design, consumer marketing, and bookselling. Lasting cornerstones of the young firm include alliances with pivotal figures in the world of graphic arts and book production and with European publishers who brought numerous Nobel Prize winners to the Borzoi list during the company’s first fifteen years. Other featured luminaries include the American authors Willa Cather, Dashiell Hammett, and Langston Hughes. The Art of Prestige also examines Alfred Knopf’s ancestry, up-bringing, and formal education at Columbia, as well as his apprenticeships with Frank Nelson Doubleday and Mitchell Kennerley—factors that would influence his business decisions for years to come. The result is a portrait of innovative branding that seamlessly merged book production with book promotion in a literary landscape that was ripe for transformation.

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Beyond the White Negro

Empathy and Anti-Racist Reading

Kimberly Chabot Davis

Critics often characterize white consumption of African American culture as a form of theft that echoes the fantasies of 1950s-era bohemians, or "White Negroes," who romanticized black culture as anarchic and sexually potent. In Beyond the White Negro, Kimberly Chabot Davis claims such a view fails to describe the varied politics of racial crossover in the past fifteen years.Davis analyzes how white engagement with African American novels, film narratives, and hip-hop can help form anti-racist attitudes that may catalyze social change and racial justice. Though acknowledging past failures to establish cross-racial empathy, she focuses on examples that show avenues for future progress and change. Her study of ethnographic data from book clubs and college classrooms shows how engagement with African American culture and pedagogical support can lead to the kinds of white self-examination that make empathy possible. The result is a groundbreaking text that challenges the trend of focusing on society's failures in achieving cross-racial empathy and instead explores possible avenues for change.

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Bibliography and the Book Trades

Studies in the Print Culture of Early New England

Hugh Amory. Edited by David D. Hall

Hugh Amory (1930-2001) was at once the most rigorous and the most methodologically sophisticated historian of the book in early America. Gathered here are his essays, articles, and lectures on the subject, two of them printed for the first time. An introduction by David D. Hall sets this work in context and indicates its significance; Hall has also provided headnotes for each of the essays.

Amory used his training as a bibliographer to reexamine every major question about printing, bookmaking, and reading in early New England. Who owned Bibles, and in what formats? Did the colonial book trade consist of books imported from Europe or of local production? Can we go behind the iconic status of the Bay Psalm Book to recover its actual history? Was Michael Wigglesworth's Day of Doom really a bestseller? And why did an Indian gravesite contain a scrap of Psalm 98 in a medicine bundle buried with a young Pequot girl?

In answering these and other questions, Amory writes broadly about the social and economic history of printing, bookselling and book ownership. At the heart of his work is a determination to connect the materialities of printed books with the workings of the book trades and, in turn, with how printed books were put to use. This is a collection of great methodological importance for anyone interested in literature and history who wants to make those same connections.

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Book History

Vol. 1 (1998) through current issue

Book History is devoted to every aspect of the history of the book, broadly defined as the history of the creation, dissemination, and reception of script and print. It publishes research on the social, economic, and cultural history of authorship, editing, printing, the book arts, publishing, the book trade, periodicals, newspapers, ephemera, copyright, censorship, literary agents, libraries, literary criticism, canon formation, literacy, literary education, reading habits, and reader response. Book History is the official publication of the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing, Inc. (SHARP).

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Books and the British Army in the Age of the American Revolution

Ira D. Gruber

This manuscript is an outgrowth of a presentation Gruber made to the Society of the Cincinnati (as part of the Society’s George Rogers Clark Lecture series) in 2002. It is a hybrid reference book and monograph. The work consists of a substantial introduction, a bibliography of books the officers preferred, a bibliography of books on war that do not appear in any of the inventories (termed books not taken), a set of biographies of the 42 officers on which the study rests, and various appendixes and tables that back up the earlier material.

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Books, Maps, and Politics

A Cultural History of the Library of Congress, 1783-1861

Carl Ostrowski

Delving into the origins and development of the Library of Congress, this volume ranges from the first attempt to establish a national legislative library in 1783 to the advent of the Civil War. Carl Ostrowski shows how the growing and changing Library was influenced by—and in turn affected—major intellectual, social, historical, and political trends that occupied the sphere of public discourse in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century America. The author explores the relationship between the Library and the period's expanding print culture. He identifies the books that legislators required to be placed in the Library and establishes how these volumes were used. His analysis of the earliest printed catalogs of the Library reveals that law, politics, economics, geography, and history were the subjects most assiduously collected. These books provided government officials with practical guidance in domestic legislation and foreign affairs, including disputes with European powers over territorial boundaries. Ostrowski also discusses a number of secondary functions of the Library, one of which was to provide reading material for the entertainment and instruction of government officials and their families. As a result, the richness of America's burgeoning literary culture from the 1830s to the 1860s was amply represented on the Library's shelves. For those with access to its Capitol rooms, the Library served an important social function, providing a space for interaction and the display and appreciation of American works of art. Ostrowski skillfully demonstrates that the history of the Library of Congress offers a lens through which we can view changing American attitudes toward books, literature, and the relationship between the federal government and the world of arts and letters.

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Bound to Read

Compilations, Collections, and the Making of Renaissance Literature

By Jeffrey Todd Knight

Concealed in rows of carefully restored volumes in rare book libraries is a history of the patterns of book collecting and compilation that shaped the literature of the English Renaissance. In this early period of print, before the introduction of commercial binding, most published literary texts did not stand on shelves in discrete, standardized units. They were issued in loose sheets or temporarily stitched—leaving it to the purchaser or retailer to collect, configure, and bind them. In Bound to Read, Jeffrey Todd Knight excavates this culture of compilation—of binding and mixing texts, authors, and genres into single volumes—and sheds light on a practice that not only was pervasive but also defined the period's very ways of writing and thinking.

Through a combination of archival research and literary criticism, Knight shows how Renaissance conceptions of imaginative writing were inextricable from the material assembly of texts. While scholars have long identified an early modern tendency to borrow and redeploy texts, Bound to Read reveals that these strategies of imitation and appropriation were rooted in concrete ways of engaging with books. Knight uncovers surprising juxtapositions such as handwritten sonnets collected with established poetry in print and literary masterpieces bound with liturgical texts and pamphlets. By examining works by Shakespeare, Spenser, Montaigne, and others, he dispels the notion of literary texts as static or closed, and instead demonstrates how the unsettled conventions of early print culture fostered an idea of books as interactive and malleable.

Though firmly rooted in Renaissance culture, Knight's carefully calibrated arguments also push forward to the digital present—engaging with the modern library archives where these works were rebound and remade, and showing how the custodianship of literary artifacts shapes our canons, chronologies, and contemporary interpretative practices.

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