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Drucker, The Visible Word (abstract)

  • Johanna Drucker. The Visible Word: Experimental Typography and Modern Art, 1909ñ1923. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1994. Ch.1, "Semiotics, Materiality and Typographic Practice," 1ñ47; ch.2, "Visual and Literary Materiality in Modern Art," 49-89.
DRUCKER PROPOSES a concept of materiality (using as her points of departure Derridian and Kristevan concepts of materiality, and framing subjectivity as an historically and culturally specific aspect of artistic production) as a way to "account for the nature and effect of typographic signification" (6, 8). Examining the usefulness and limitations of Saussurean (and other) linguistics, Drucker concludes that although linguists were blind to the visual material of the signifier (paradoxically, Saussure eliminates materiality even while creating a system that depends on it [25]), poets both theorized and practiced the manipulation of typographic language. 
    Drucker examines three conceptual modern-art categories: 
  • the rational process legitimating a spiritual teleology, and a belief in transcendence (for example, the Symbolists [62])
  • subjective modernism, where there is no possibility for truth or absolute value, and the emphasis is on representation of individual knowledge, perception and experience (63) 
  • the category that established social order through subverting dominant conventions of rules of representation (65)
Drucker "debunks" these generalizations, however, to put the discussion of materiality in context, as materiality is engaged in a process of signification so that "relations between formal manipulations and content could not be resolved" (67). Fundamentally, the modern-art concern with presence (presentation not representation) is a desire for "newness, nowness, imminence," a fact that is crucial for understanding its place within the historical development of attitudes toward art and literature as "signifying practices" (88). (Julia Bleakney.)

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Michael Hancher

Department of English, University of Minnesota

URL: <http://umn.edu/home/mh/txtimjb3.html>

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Created 24 December 1997