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Reviewed by:
  • Wiederaufgelegt: Zur Appropriation von Texten und Büchern in Büchern ed. by Annette Gilbert, and: Reprint: Appropriation (&) Literature, Appropriationen von 1960 bis heute ed. by Annette Gilbert
  • Patrick Greaney (bio)
Annette Gilbert, ed. Wiederaufgelegt: Zur Appropriation von Texten und Büchern in Büchern. Bielefeld: Transcript, 2012. 422 pages.
Annette Gilbert, ed. Reprint: Appropriation (&) Literature, Appropriationen von 1960 bis heute. Wiesbaden: Luxbooks, 2014. 563 pages.

In 2011, the poet Vanessa Place published The Father & Childhood, which reprints two chapters from Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, “The Mother” and “Childhood,” with one small change: all references to women and femininity have been replaced with references to men and masculinity. “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman” becomes “One is not born, but rather becomes, a man.” The same year, Yedda Morrison’s Darkness appeared, a rewriting of Heart of Darkness that removes everything in the text but references to nature, leaving words like “palm” and “night” floating in the middle of an otherwise erased page. These are complex texts that reward analysis. Place’s text literalizes Luce Irigaray’s claim that there is only one sex; femininity persists in The Father & Childhood only as an uncanny, structuring absence. Darkness emphasizes the eerie, voiceless presence of the earth in Conrad’s narrative.

There are many generic, rhetorical, and technical terms that could be used to describe these works: montage, ellipsis, aposiopesis, quotation. They could be compared to forms like Kurt Schwitters’ “i-Zeichnungen” and John Cage’s “writing-through” method. But none of these is sufficient for discussing Place’s and Morrison’s books or the growing number of books like them, which Annette Gilbert, in these two edited volumes, proposes to call “appropriation literature.” She circumscribes the subgenre in her introductions, delineating its differences from its closest relative, appropriation art: “Although the boundary between art and literature is in many cases highly permeable, the books at hand are defined as (liminal cases of) literature that emerge from engagement with literature and its discourses, traditions, conventions, and institutions, and that position themselves within literature and in the literary system.” She suggests four criteria for identifying works of appropriation literature. They must reprint entire texts, or large parts of texts; they cannot just quote short passages and embed them in new contexts. They must make clear that they are copies; this distinguishes them from plagiarized works. The works must have actually been created, as opposed to remaining proposals. And, finally, they must copy works of literature, and not non-literary texts.

Wiederaufgelegt collects twenty-three essays by artists, art historians, curators, literary critics, and writers about appropriation literature. While most considerations of appropriation as a technique have hitherto focused on its undermining of conventional notions of authorship and originality, the contributors to Gilbert’s collection expand the critical horizon to show the full range of issues at stake in this subgenre, in which originality is not eliminated, but rethought. Many appropriative works can be read just like any other literary text. In her contribution, Nora Ramtke shows how the blank spaces in [End Page 831] Michael Maranda’s Four Percent of Moby Dick (2006), an abbreviated version of Melville’s novel created using Microsoft Word’s AutoSummarize function, resonate with Ishmael’s fear of the whale’s whiteness. The white page plays an important role in many appropriative works, which links them to much of modern poetry, from Mallarmé to concrete poetry and language poetry. Anne Mœglin-Delcroix is right to conclude her discussion of literary materiality (in Irma Blank, Hanne Darboven, Hans-Peter Feldmann, and others) by insisting “dass das weit verzweigte Phänomen der künstlerischen Aneignung nicht homogen ist und es ohne Simplifizierung nicht, wie so oft geschehen, ausschließlich der formalistischen Perspektive einer rein konzeptuellen Übung zugeschrieben werden kann.” These essays approach appropriative literature from new and productive theoretical and critical angles, and they reveal its global nature, with discussions of artists from a long list of countries, including Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Mexico, Poland, Romania, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States.

Reprint is a chronologically ordered catalog of more than one hundred and twenty representative works...


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pp. 831-832
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