“The Material and Immaterial Lives of the Book”

Response from Kyle Schlesinger, Cuneiform Press

When I asked Eliza Newman-Saul why she moved away from artists books and towards conceptual performances and lectures she told me that one major factor was that she felt too much pressure to perform the parallel, and at times conflicting duties of an artist and artisan–moreover, an artisan who wears several hats (bookbinder, typographer, designer, papermaker, printer, photopolymer platemaker, etc.). Then there’s the business of distribution, promotion, paying bills, etc. Then there’s the necessary activity of keeping the art alive in the form of writing, research, building, reading, and participating in critical discussions such as this.

Book artists are not all publishers and vice versa and there’s nothing wrong with that. Neither, in my opinion, has an obligation to wear all hats all the time nor to value all aspects of the book. Walter Hamady, for example, has come close to making books all on his own, but I feel that part of the art is realizing ones talents and ones limits on all counts and making use of the resources in the neighborhood. Simon, so far as I know, has his hardcover books bound by a local bookbinder and letterpress work performed by a local printer with excellent results. Concepts, aesthetics, innovations, and subversions are consistently produced in-house in dialogue with community. Decisions, such as what to farm out to others and what do at home, with ones own time, are crucial.

Coming to publishing from a literary background, I indulge in sloppy printing. My primary interest is in getting the work I value into the right hands, and to have fun learning in the process. Perfect inking, imposition, etc. have never been very important to me so long as the author is happy with the book. I’ve learned to learn that after you’ve made a book, in whatever sense, you cant help but look and glean from every book you encounter. Every consideration becomes an opportunity, every letterform a decision, every margin a point of departure but the most difficult, or at least consistent tension always seems to be between the material and immaterial lives of the book, the thing and the idea, object and ideal.



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