The Reader is the Space
“A text is made of multiple writings... The reader is the space on which all the quotations that make up a writing are inscribed; a text’s unity lies not in its origins but in its destination.”
Roland Barthes, “The Death of the Author,” Aspen, No. 5–6, 1967
“This is a Mirror. You Are a Written Sentence.”
Luis Camnitzer, This is a Mirror, You Are a Written Sentence, 1966–1968
“Every reader his/her book. Every book its reader.”
S.R. Ranganathan, The Five Laws of Library Science (Madras Library Association, 1931).
By the way
“Dear reader. Don’t read.”
Ulises Carrión, Querido lector, No lea, 1975
Project 1: Reading Reading
Three weeks, due Tues 6 Oct (half class review) or Tues 13 Oct (other half review)
We start the semester on the page (not necessarily the same page), with hands, with surfaces, with words, and with saccades. This project involves an orthographic, anthropometric, diagrammatic, and discursive study of reading itself. The myriad substrates, media, and formats we read in everyday life, and the behaviours, movements, processes, and psychologies associated with reading them. A kind of “Reading Reading,” if you will.
The page is inherently multidimensional. Rather than the basic “two-dimensional” description that still mislabels graphic design programmes at some academic institutions, the X and Y axes that we operate within on any computer screen are subject to the three-dimensional vertical Z axis we encounter in everyday life. With reading, typography is both orthogonal (it operates on multiple, divergent planes) and orthographic (it communicates space and time—life—through signs and symbols). In Designing books: practice and theory, Swiss book designer Jost Hochuli outlines the book’s symmetrical codex properties (“Its axis is the spine, around which the pages are turned”) and its kinesis (“...the sense of movement and development, which comes with the turning of the pages”).
By Hochuli’s description, the double-page spread is of greater importance than the single page. This axis of symmetry and the totality that comes from the movement of double-pages, turned over one another, can be understood as what he calls “the final typographic unity,” one that includes the dimension of time. The job of the book designer, he concludes, “is in the widest sense a space-time problem.” Given these spatial and temporal conditions, typography is necessarily anthropometric: informed by measurements and proportions of the human body and conditioned by our interactions with it.
Starting in class today, observe, annotate, and analyse:
You might want to move around your room, your apartment, even go for a walk if conditions allow (I know some of you are in RISD dorm-imposed quarantine right now). If you and some others are willing, you might talk to each other in Zoom or by video call and observe various poses and modes of reading. (This admittedly sounds awkward to me, but usually we start this class by collectively making reading studies in the glorious RISD library where it’s much more natural to team up and test out reading scenarios together, so I thought I’d mention it as an option just in case it doesn’t sound too crazy to some of you).
As you explore substrates and experiences, chart as many of the actions—be they physical, performed, exaggerated, or imagined—as possible and make orthographic, anthropometric studies, notes, diagrams, recordings of reading with any means you deem appropriate: drawing, writing, photography, video, &c. Articulate the time, space, movement, actions, thinking, and processing involved in the different ways of reading your particular formats.
Over the next few weeks, refine your notes and documentation into a final format for presentation as a finished autonomous, communicative work that conveys your own personal critical experiential documentation of reading. It might be in the form of a published study, a poster, a film, an environment. Work in the medium that feels best for articulating your conclusions.
Further Reading & References