Trails that disappear

In an earlier post I mentioned the book as object. Since the seventies or eighties there have been new areas for the book as object to assume. One being the realm of the artists’ book. This form has taken a slow development from the fine press book with molded page and colored pulp papers, sketch books, to all kinds of binding designs and shapes.

The idea expressed by Paul Valéry still applies though, I think, and makes note of considerations that are still relevant.

A fine book is first of all a perfect reading device, the properties of which may be defined with some exactitude by means of the laws and methods of optics: at the same time it is a work of art, a thing, though one having its own personality, showing the features of a particular way of thinking, suggesting the noble intentions of argument both successful and determined. Let us not forget, however, that typography excludes improvisations; it is the result of trails that disappear, the result of an art showing finished works only, an art that rejects outlines and sketches, that knows no stages between existence and non-existence. Thus typography gives us an important and formidable lesson.
The author’s mind is seen as in a mirror which the printing press provides. If the paper and the ink are in accord, if the type is well-designed, if the composition is well done, the line of the right length, and the sheet well printed, the author feels his language and his style afresh. He feels shame and pride at the same time. He is shown honors he may not have earned. He thinks he hears a voice clearer and firmer than his own, articulating his words with faultless purity, dangerously detaching them. Everything feeble, weak, arbitrary, or inelegant he may have written speaks too clearly and too loud. It is a precious and frightening experience to be magnificently printed.

Paul Valéry

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