Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

Art of the Book: The Book Machine

ENGL 210.303
MW 3:30-5

What is a book? It is a "phenomenon of space and time and dimensionality that is unique unto itself," answers the poet-scholar Dick Higgins. "Every time we turn the page, the previous page presses into our past and we are confronted by a new world."

Higgins' text joins a chorus of poems, essays, and manifestos that take the book as their primary subject. For Stéphane Mallarmé, writing at the end of the nineteenth century, it is a spiritual instrument, a "tiny tomb for the soul." For Steve McCaffery and bpNichol, writing a century later on Apple IIe computers, the codex becomes a "machine" that clanks and clatters with meaning. Between them, we find books described as trees (Anne Waldman, Vilem Flusser), folds (Jacques Derrida, Gilles Deleuze), and phenomena (Johanna Drucker). Today, as the popular media predicts the book's demise, we may say with Gertrude Stein, simply, "book was there."

In this course, we will read a range of writers talking about books, the materiality of writing, and text's entanglement with technology. As we read together, we'll keep an eye on our digital present, asking questions like: is the Web a fulfillment of the book's literary potential or its death? What is the role of the codex in an age of screen reading? How does technology inform, and literally give form to, texts? Our responses will be creative and may involve making artists' books, designing zines, and coding. As a capstone project for the semester, students will collaboratively design, edit, and produce a special issue of a creative/critical digital humanities journal. No experience with coding is required.

fulfills requirements
Sector 1: Theory and Poetics of the Standard Major
Sector 6: 20th Century Literature of the Standard Major
Creative Writing Seminar Requirement of the Creative Writing Track