Book as Art Object?, or How Do I Read the Damn Thing?

Future of the Printed Book?

I have always been fascinated by the evolution of print. I’ve also enjoyed Jonathan Safran Foer’s previous works of fiction, including Everything is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. So I am definitely intrigued by his newest work, Tree of Codes. While Extremely Loud played with images and photographs and their ability to jar us, this book transforms the work itself into art. It’s interesting from a design perspective, but I think it says much more than that about the nature of written communication.

Foer produced the book from extracting and inserting phrases and words into his favorite novel, The Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Schulz. The resulting work is a novel of cut-outs that seems self-consciously aware of its own existence. If that makes any sense — I’m not sure it does. But it brings up all kinds of questions about originality and the importance of form.

He’s getting a lot of criticism from readers and artists alike who think he’s re-hashing old ideas and “disrespecting the print medium,” but more power to him. If it gets someone who isn’t a reader or an artist interested in the form of a book itself, then it has a purpose.

I just have one question: Is the book good? Does it have a plot and developed characters? I haven’t read it (yet), so I can’t answer my own question. But it’s my opinion that no matter how “cool” the print medium can become, the medium should never overshadow the message unless you mean to have no message at all beyond asking others to recognize your edginess.

Check out the New York Times interview with Foer for more information on his intent. Not that intent matters or anything.

A Bit Hard to Read...
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