On 1 September I was invited by COPY to contribute to an event entitled Circles, part of a series of discussions (Papers, Fictions, Scripts & Circles) taking place at Site Gallery. I proposed to talk about a number of projects that I have been involved in where the act of reading is put pressure on in a particular way through practice, specifically where the creation of a frame or platform is used as a space for applying such pressure. Below are a few of the notes and images from my presentation at this event. A full recording of the event can also be found here.
What do Books Want?
Appropriating and adapting W.J.T Mitchell’s question, What do Pictures Want?, I proposed that in order to conceive of spaces for sharing and activating printed works (texts, books etc.) it is perhaps necessary to ask, ‘What do books want?’ or else “What does print want”? Does printed matter always want to be read? Is reading the appropriate verb through which to approach artists’ publications? Through what other verbs might they be apprehended? How else might such texts be activated or shared? My presentation focused in part on my current collaboration Tacturiency with Bristol based artist, Clare Thornton. Tacturiency refers to the desire of touching, to touch, to be touched; within this collaboration Clare and I tentatively approach one another, through a shared interest in ideas around folding, falling, failing, fainting.
Emma Cocker and Clare Thornton, Tacturiency: Reading Table at Summer Lodge, 2012
Tacturiency is a collaboration begun through a shared interest in reading, and orbits around a number of texts referring to the fold in particular (see above). However, within Tacturiency, we have become increasingly interested in looking for other ways of coming together to put pressure on various texts besides reading. Reading is an activity that arguably has to take place alongside other methods of engaging with textual materials. Indeed, Foucault argues that:
By going constantly from book to book, without ever stopping, without returning to the hive now and then with one’s supply of nectar – hence without taking notes or constituting a treasure store of reading – one is liable to retain nothing, to spread oneself across different thoughts, and to forget oneself. Writing, as a way of gathering in the reading what was done and of collecting one’s thoughts about it, it is an exercise of reason that counters the great deficiency of stultitia, which endless reading may favour. Stultitia is defined by mental agitation, distraction, change of opinions and wishes, and consequently weakness in the face of all the events that may occur; it is also characterized by the fact that it turns the mind toward the future, makes it interested in novel ideas, and prevents it from providing a fixed point for itself in the possession of an acquired truth. Michel Foucault, The Hermeneutic of the Subject in Ethics, p.211
Perhaps the chase of novel ideas is no bad thing, and perhaps the notion of possessing the truth, whatever that might be, has long since been abandoned. Indeed, Foucault is talking about the role of reading in relation to very specific ‘practices of the self’ within Ancient Greece. However, I am struck by the restlessness of books; admittedly an encounter with any sizable gathering of publications induces in me a state of agitation or even panic. Unable to settle on a single book, I feel myself flitting from one book to another, rapidly thumbing the pages, gaining little but the briefest glimpse of the contents contained therein. The line between biblio-phile and biblio-phobe seems very porous. Tacturiency refers then to the desire to touch, but not the act of touching or handling itself (a nice term perhaps to consider in relation to an exhibition of vitrine-based books). In fact, I rather like the vitrined book for it keeps the book still long enough for me to encounter it on its own terms, without my desire for skimming taking over.
At times, the bulldog clip is an essential tool for quietening the noise of books, for stilling their incessant chatter. Sometimes it is necessary to render a book momentarily mute. Alongside the publications themselves, the reading table that Clare and I have assembled for Tacturiency contains a number of implements through which we have approached the event of reading – glass bells, bone folders, rulers, a torch, bubble mixture. It would seem that very particular spaces might be needed for the reading of specific texts, for reading manifestos for example; the insurgent or performative utterance of certain texts would make it difficult for the reader to observe the library’s rule of silence. Certain texts need to be read out loud, or sung or shouted. The table construction that is now central to Tacturiency is multifunctional: at times considered a space for reading, or a means of division for creating proximity without visibility, or a frame for pressuring reading towards other kinds of action. I interested in the imperative or invitational nature of texts, in the kinds of actions that they invite. In this sense, reading seems to be just one of the modes of engagement through which printed matter might be encountered.