How We Intersect Books: Living in the Dream Margin by Ray Ogar

>>> COPYRIGHT 2011

Essay written to accompany the Baum Gallery exhibit Intersecting the Book: When Artists, Writers and Graphic Designers Create 2D Worlds; An Exhibit & Reading Room exploring Designer Novels, Neo-Comics, Artists Sketchbooks, Post-modern Layout & Contemporary Illustration. Available for viewing Thursday January 13 through Thursday February 24, 2011.

“This is not for you,” is the opening line of the book House of Leaves by Mark Z Danielewski. House of Leaves is a 700+ page novel told through variations of language, visual wordplay and, at times, radical page layout. The story in part describes the life of Pulitzer prize winning photographer, Will Navidson and his family who upon moving into a new house discover and then begin to document the changing interior of the house. What author Danielewski deftly reveals is a family beset by the strange experience of a living space that slowly grows larger on the inside while the outside remains the same size. Continue to read the novel as well as the impressive amount of footnotes (which happen to tell story by another character in the book) and the reader is treated with dozens of moments where text and narrative literally change shape on the page. Some pages are left blank, others are crammed with words that snake around margins and paragraphs, at other times text disappears into nothing. All of this expressiveness and metaphorical design by the author not only augments our visual imagination of the house, but in tune with the many psychological and philosophical musings in House of Leaves, I would argue this strange morphing house down on Ash Tree lane likewise suggests how we live in our own minds. Ultimately we exist steeped in our own virtual worlds extended from the things we read, watch and dream—all this we imagine in the contained space of our minds. And this is very much likened to how books exist too... an entire world contained in the humble gray matter secured in our heads.

The cave paintings of Lascaux, the threaded images of the Bayeux Tapestry, the illuminated pages of a medieval manuscript, an illustrated Charles Dickens story, a golden age comic book, a page layout from 1990s Grunge Era magazine Ray Gun, a Dave McKean graphic novel and VAS by Stephen Farrell and Steve Tomasula. In this abbreviated list of illustrated texts and designer narratives, an author and creator of a story either conspired with an artist or themselves illustrated the story they wished told. Artists, authors and designers create to express ideas from their imagination. Some of these artists have a precise vision like the hyper-rationalized line work of contemporary graphic novelist Chris Ware. Other artists and writers work together to give an interpretation or deft gesture that leaves it up to the reader to complete the picture. Or in the case of some medieval manuscripts, monks drew images in the margins of the bible's they copied to poke fun, challenge views and/or show reverence to the material they labored over.

Featured in the exhibit Intersecting the Book are illustrations, page layouts and texts that reveal imagery used in some way to support word. Not all works derive from books and granted some works lean toward pure image as if a movie slowed down to a few frames. Other works are purely text, but text designed and loved and moved around the page to suggest space, image and a life for those words beyond their basic reading. Some say, isn’t that enough? Do we need to think about them more? The artist took time to draw this or that, isn’t that what I should think? You might well ask that, but my response would be, does a book ever just end when you close the cover?

The above phenomena is most recently exemplified by readers of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books. In popular culture the Harry Potter franchise is a multi-million dollar enterprise. The books were published 5 years before the movie series began and had a tremendous following by readers way before the specific visualization of the films. Most of us know someone who has read the books. And likewise many read the book before the seeing the movie. I have heard, read and personally served readers (as a bookseller) over the years who deride the movie version as too different from their imagined version of the stories. Who has not experienced a visual displacement from reading something and then seeing it interpreted differently on screen by a director whose vision does not match his/her own imagined version of the book’s world? It is in this way though, when readers love these textual-worlds, that their minds continue to grow the story beyond its initial book-covered boundaries. Even stories with specific visual styles like graphic novels and comic books are extended-on in an official and sometimes illegal capacity. This particularly happens through various forms of Fan Fiction and even Slash Fiction in the United States (e.g. any number of fans have had legal cases brought against them for non-canonical portrayals of characters in their homespun text, YouTube video and Machinima versions of Star Trek, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and the video game Halo, to name a few) (see endnote 1) .

In 21st century style many people even go so far as to act out their lives in sanctioned and unsanctioned spaces. Here I refer to everything from fan conventions where readers and watchers dress up as favorite characters (Various Comicon, Trekkie/Trekker conventions, etc.). And not to forget meta-media like the computer generated virtual worlds of 2nd Life and video games whereby we can exist proxy inside a simulated world of color—we become the pilots of characters, Harry Potter or Darth Vader: these simulated spaces are where electronic action figures become our prosthetics of light and pixels for us to play in... and of course these ephemeral forms we inhabit in such spaces are more commonly known as avatars.

In his book The Pleasure of the Text, French social and literary critic Roland Barthes details how readers occasionally skim over text or visually cut away words to get at the meat of a story. The word he chose is tmesis. Originally from ancient Greek, with its own attendant meaning, Barthes rethinks the idea and writes, “tmesis is a seam or flaw resulting from a simple principle of functionality... the author cannot predict tmesis... he cannot choose to write what will not be read [by his audience].” (emphasis author’s). Though Barthes is remarking here how readers might ignore certain parts of a writing in a story. This is a form of editing the reader enacts on the text to get what he or she wants out of the story. Of course, philosophizing aside, readers take control of read worlds in other ways as described above. We readers continue to fill in the space between the lines of text, between pages and outside the covers of books. We extend artist-created images and animate these colorful lives in our minds or in reality. It is in this dream margin that the reader and book intersect—here the story grows in a collaboration between author’s vision and the reader’s imagination to continue to live in new and unexpected ways.

endnote 1—In Japan's Manga market many who own the rights to certain creative works promote the retelling and extending of various manga in the form of D?jinshi, or small press, fan-made Manga.