(More notes of some of the editing/design work for The New Work of Composing.)
As I’ve been doing my research on the history of the book (Finkelstein and McCleery, Febvre and Martin, Eisenstein, Duguid, etc.), I’ve tried to parse out different elements of physical, printed, machine-bound books (covers, table of contents, bindings, titles, indices, bibliographies, author credit, afterwards, etc.). I’m still doing a lot of reading for this stuff, but one of the most interesting threads I’ve been working through is the idea of a cover. Initially, the nature of a cover was for the sake of protecting the contents inside from wear and tear, then for purposes of organized storage, then for marketing, etc. Tied up in these discussions are the evolution of titles, attribution, publishing house credit, and the-book-as-a-unity. In other words, more and more I’ve come to realize the specific work that covers do for books, and this is especially evident when thinking through “unification” strategies for something like an edited collection. In terms of a digital collection of scholarship, I see this topic as especially important because there seems to be a convention with digital texts that most begin with either a TOC or primary navigation elements on the initial page. The old “splash page” (usually programmed in flash) has become a thing of the past.
For these reasons I want to begin thinking through the work that a “digital” cover might do that a digital TOC doesn’t. I’m working on an image for the cover of The New Work of Composing, and it is something that I actually like.
From left to write, an image of handwriting morphs into typewriting and then into binary code. Sort of a nod to the lineage of writing technologies. The text is from the section of Plato’s Pheadrus where Socrates is explaining to Phaedrus about the dangers of written language as a technology. So the choice of text seems appropriate, too. Taking the gesture even further, the image responds, also, to a passage I’ve run across in Fabvre and Martin’s The Coming of the Book:
“Printing encouraged the growth of the paper trade and this increased the number of waste sheets; so began the habit of using ‘cardboard’ for covers in place of wooden board. It was cheaper and not as heavy, made by pasting several sheets together which toughened them. Paper of all kinds was used-old proof sheets, old books used as scrap, letters, business files, archives. The dismantling of old bindings often brings interesting finds to light” (106)
I love this passage. I love the image of a cover being fashioned out of old manuscripts. The drafts, mistakes, cuttings, proofs… all this material that didn’t make it into the book itself makes ends up as the book’s protection and the book’s face. Identity and defense. Like an old medieval crest on a shield. But for the sake our this image I’ve created, digital detritus wouldn’t really work, as there is effectively no material waste. I suppose I could have layered earlier drafts of the cover or TOC interface as the background image for the cover, but that would’ve only served a single symbolic channel. In this way, We still get the layering of old manuscripts, but manuscripts that started the discussion to which this collection is attempting to contribute.
But then, of course, it’s got to work visually with the rest of the elements of the cover. And it’s also got to be appropriate and functional for what’s “inside” the collection itself.
I’d love any feedback I can get on the image. Compliments and suggestions are welcome. My co-editors are also giving it a closer look right now, too. I look forward to any reactions you might have.
Here’s a copy of that image: