“For many of us, print books are part of what makes us readers, an exterior environment that habituates and prompts us.”

For Liedeke Plate, in an article entitled ‘How to Do Things with Literature in the Digital Age,’   the materiality of the book is expounded through Anne Carson’s recent work ‘Nox.’  Her article explores some of the issues surrounding the book’s form and the materiality of the printed page in post-modernist society.

According to Plate “Electronic digital computing ended the invisibility of books” (Plate, 3) by highlighting what is profoundly missing from the digital form, that being, its lack of aesthetic ‘bookishness.’  She draws attention to the fact that literature is now part of a broad media ecology and is only a single entity in the media experience as a whole.  However, ‘Nox‘ is a book which, like ‘House of Leaves’ claims heritage in the physicality of the book alone.  It cannot be reproduced for the digital age and must instead be touched by the reader and experienced as a concertina that unravels in the reader’s hands.  The “aesthetics of this bookishness may be a response to the digitization of our world” (Plate, 3) but this ‘convergence culture’ is unlikely to saturate the individuality of a book culture that continues to hark after authenticity and agency.  The material culture of books anthropomorphize texts and elevate the author and reader to a shared respect for subject and object.

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Reading ‘Nox‘ felt a little intrusive and personal, uncomfortable even, as I felt the ‘lived experience’ Plate talks about by “pulling the reader into a private act of remembering within the public space of publishing.” (Plate, 8)

This is the magic with which Carson makes her experimental book work.  For me the handwritten elements of the text function “as a marker of authenticity, uniqueness, and personality” (Plate, 8) which make this book feel slightly voyeuristic in nature.  Plate sees this as more then just a text but a literary work which is deeply self-conscious of its materiality and appears unapologetic for this.

The books inability to sufficiently convey adequate translation of the interspersed poem Catullus’ 101, reflects Carson’s inability to fully express her grief for her dead brother both experiencing and lamenting the limits of language as form.  It is in the photography and fragmented scribbles by hand, that her work expresses and reflects upon post-modernist literary culture.  Stephen Burt calls it “an anti-book, about the futility of language in the face of death.” (Burt, London Review of Books 14/7/11)  As book culture transfigures with the aid of digital aesthetics, Luddites such as myself are being forced to take a second look at experimental literature with an open-mindedness that goes against the grain.  It would be easy to dismiss ‘Nox‘ as ‘kitsch’ and “a clever gimmick” (Plate, 14) but there is something deeply moving about it’s intimacy which cannot be ignored.  A box which will stand out among its contemporaries, I imagine it is one I will be tempted to lift down again and again.

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