JO CROFT (Department of English, Liverpool John Moores University) 

‘Unpacking My Hoard’: A Talk About Literary Hoarding (or ‘Too Many Feelings About Too Many Books…)

I am very interested in hoarding – perhaps a little too interested. And so now the piles of books about hoarding, books about collecting, books about collecting books, are forming a cluttered tideline around my desk. The familiar mantra ‘you can never have too many books’ suggests they are uniquely positioned as material objects, requiring some kind of dispensation from accusations of acquisitiveness. My paper will therefore consider book and newspaper hoarding as a perverse re-configuration of the culturally revered activity of book collecting. Over the last few years, hoarding has exerted a particular fascination over the popular media and, since May 2013, hoarding has been classified as a distinct psychiatric disorder in DSM 5, characterised by ‘persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of their actual value’. According to DSM5, ‘The most commonly saved items are newspapers, magazines, old clothing, bags, books, mail and paperwork’, and associated psychological traits include ‘indecisiveness, perfectionism, avoidance, procrastination … and distractibility.’ By focusing on the hoarder’s relationship to paper, I aim to foreground some of the more contradictory aspects of the affective realms conjured by the materiality of books. I also want to trace uncomfortable continuities between the hoarder who ‘churns’ (but never discards) paper and my own ambivalent identifications as an academic researcher.


KATHERINE CURRAN (Centre for Sustainable Heritage, The Bartlett, University College London)

Does the British Library need a nose?

The aim of this work is to detect and identify the volatile chemicals that are emitted from books as a result of their material composition and degradation processes and to explore the relationship between these emissions and the condition of the book as assessed by a conservator.

In collaboration with the British Library, the volatile emissions from a range of 20th century books are being analysed using solid phase micro-extraction gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (SPME-GC/MS).  Statistical analysis will be used to establish whether these emission profiles can be used to distinguish between books in good condition and those in need of conservation treatment i.e. whether one can establish a book’s condition from its “smell”.  Key volatile degradation markers will be identified.

Taking a purely scientific approach, this research focuses entirely on the material properties of a book, with the literary or information content of the books in question almost irrelevant.   (Co-researchers on this project are: Mark Underhill, Paul Garside, Lorraine T. Gibson, Matija Strlic).



The Stow Magpie: Found Paper in Eighteenth Century Edinburgh (School of History, Classics and Archaeology, University of Edinburgh)

In his introductory essay for The Social Life of Things (1988) Igor Kopytoff discusses the ‘diversion of commodities’ from their expected trajectories. In my doctoral thesis The Social Life of Paper in Edinburgh 1750-1820 I address this as the ‘anti-social life of paper’. This paper discusses one aspect of this anti-social life — this diversion — in the collecting habits of George Innes of Stow (d.1780). Innes rose from the office of tax collecting to become Chief Executive of the Royal Bank of Scotland and who, as well as taxes, collected paper scraps which he found in the streets. The cataloguer of the collection of Stow family papers refers to Innes as “a perfect magpie” when noting these little paper oddities – each of which Innes annotated and carefully preserved. However, as this archive passed first to his son Gilbert and then to George’s daughter Jane, these found scraps were conserved not by one person to whom they were not directed, but by three. This paper looks at where paper goes when it is diverted from its expected or intended path, and how we can interpret such rerouteing.


CHRISTOPHER HOLLIDAY (Film Studies, King’s College London) 

Manuscript anatomies and bookish bodies: Inside the Quay Brothers’ The Cabinet of Jan Švankmajer (1984)

The sixteenth century painting The Librarian by Italian Mannerist Giuseppe Arcimboldo, in which leather-bound books are arranged into the torso and visage of a human figure, has been examined as a critique of intellectualism and librarianship, but also of “materialistic book collectors more interested in acquiring books than reading them (Elhard). The composite portrait and its monstrous teratology has since been co-opted as the protagonist of the Quay Brothers’ surreal stop-motion film The Cabinet of Jan Švankmajer (1984). A tribute to their mentor, the Quays’ film absorbs Arcimboldo’s painting into a puppet simulacrum of the renowned Czech filmmaker, with the pages of a book fanned out atop his open skull. This paper examines the sinisterly “bookish” professor—shorn of its original painterly peculiarities—and how it is transformed into a sculptural symbol of knowledge by educating another inquisitive doll who wanders into his realm. This paper further suggests The Cabinet of Jan Švankmajer and its manuscript anatomies speak to the Quays own “bibliophile wanderings throughout the world” (Buchan). Replete with typography and calligraphy, books inspire their screen spaces, and it is The Cabinet of Jan Švankmajer that most vividly spotlights the connection between printed matter and the filmmakers’ animated expressions.


KATHERINE INGLIS (School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures, University of Edinburgh)

Marian Earle, Book artist.

Reading Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Aurora Leigh with hindsight, critics have characterised its intertextuality as, variously, unconscious plagiarism, proto-modernist bricolage, and – more neutrally – historical realism. Drawing on the history of reading, this paper seeks to shift attention from the poem’s intertextuality to its representation of material texts, and from the central figure of the artist to the embodied reader. As Kate Flint and Pamela Gilbert have shown, the female Victorian reader was thought to be particularly vulnerable to the corrupting influence of books; Aurora Leigh reimagines this idea through Aurora’s consumption of her father’s books, an act of reading (figured as ‘nibbling’) that produces an artist; however, this paper focuses on the poem’s other female reader, Marian Erle, whose mental development is shaped by ‘leaves torn’ from miscellaneous literature donated by pedlars. Marian’s reading practice is haptic, tactile and directed to the book-object: she destroys the pages that are painful to her, and crafts those she finds pleasant into a nosegay. Does this production of a print-fetish constitute a perversion of paper, a misuse of print attributable to Marian’s naive understanding of the written word? Does Marian embody the abjection of reading, or is Marian’s critical, creative reading practice an analogue for Aurora’s?


ANDREW JANES (The National Archives, UK)

Mutilation or recreation? Customised cartography in central government recordkeeping

Although archives prototypically consist of unpublished items, cartographic materials often represent a deviation from this norm. Copies of printed, published maps have frequently been used, re-used and abused for recordkeeping purposes. The historical records of government held at The National Archives of the United Kingdom reveal that the imaginative ‘upcycling’ of maps has sat at the heart of many aspects of official bureaucracy, from taxation to defence.

This paper will:

  • Explore the place of published mapping within the recordkeeping continuum, and in relation to Ursula Franklin’s dichotomy between holistic and prescriptive technologies
  • Outline a provisional typology of cartographic customisation, from simple hand-colouring to sophisticated collages
  • Demonstrate how upcycling maps can involve losses or subversions of, as well as enhancements to, the original material
  • Discuss the ubiquity of ad hoc, unstandardised and deviant approaches to annotating, mutilating and reassembling maps

The paper argues that the repurposing of old cartography as a literal support or new spatial information has provided a practical, flexible and effective solution for meeting record creators’ needs. Far from being aberrations, such ‘perversions of paper’ have become normal, everyday recordkeeping techniques.


VICTORIA MILLS (English, Darwin College, University of Cambridge)

Erotics of Late Nineteenth-Century Book Collecting

This paper explores sensory experience and eroticism in literary depictions of book collecting, focusing on the bibliophilic dandy-aesthetes and shabby bachelor book-lovers in work by Oscar Wilde, Joris-Karl Huysmans, George Gissing and Eugene Field. It discusses the gendering of books, the tactile relations between men and their book collections and the erotics of the catalogue. The paper first explores Eugene Field’s semi-autobiographical account of the eccentric relations between men and books in Love Affairs of a Bibliomaniac (1896). It then examines late-Victorian fiction’s account of how men form and reinvent themselves through the act of book collecting and of how male subjects and book-objects blend, transform and physically alter each other. By introducing a phenomenological perspective on the corporeal experience of book love, the paper highlights the interplay of the senses as instrumental in the construction of masculine identities. I use depictions of book collecting to think about how the relationship between past and present is mediated through things and bodily objects and I discuss the alternative histories and genealogies that the individual’s affective investment in books may recover. While late nineteenth-century bibliomania is often pathologised and placed in relation to discourses about heredity, degeneration and the fitness of the male body, paper draws attention to a range of texts in which book collecting is depicted in more positive terms.


GILL PARTINGTON (Department of English and Humanities, Birkbeck, University of London)

Reading, Eating and Perverting Paper: The Indigestible Book in Art

‘Reading is not eating’, insists the critic Janice Radway. Yet a whole array of culinary terms exists to describe our interactions with the written word: we have an appetite for books, hungrily devour and savour them, we browse, consume and digest them. This paper examines what happens in the rare but intriguing instances when these metaphors of consumption become something more, and when the merely figurative become perversely literalised. What does it mean to actually chew or eat the written word, and to reconceive and reform the book not as reading matter but as edible substance?

Such questions have largely been of interest to conceptual artists rather than writers; sculptor John Latham famously chewed a book before returning it to the library, while Dieter Roth created and exhibited a ‘Bookwurst’ mingling pages with sausage-meat. These instances, both from the 1960s, ask some fundamental questions about the nature and ontological limits of the book. I set out to explore these questions and what they reveal about the written word as a communications medium in the mid-twentieth century. Friedrich Kittler argues that the book, once it enters into rivalry with recorded sound and moving image, comes to occupy a new place in the ‘discourse network’ of culture and technology.  What characterises print and paper in contrast to these other data streams is the ‘indigestible materiality of the medium’. I attempt to read Latham and Roth’s unreadable books in terms of precisely this indigestibility, exploring how they defamiliarise and radically re-imagine our encounters with writing not in terms of vision, cognition and affect, but in terms of body, matter and abjection.


JANE PARTNER (Trinity Hall, University of Cambridge)

Books as Bodies: Dissection and Interiority in Books and Book Sculpture

This paper examines the fetishization of books as bodies, considering how contemporary book sculpture that engages with anatomy has its roots in a long history of using the codex as a model for the corpus. I asses the ways in which diverse engagements with the materiality of the book have framed its physical substance as a reflection of human embodiment.

The concept of the book as body begins in the medieval world, where the concealed interiority expressed in the widespread metaphor of the ‘book of the heart’ was made concrete in heart-shaped books of hours. During the early modern period, the rise in anatomical investigation was reflected in increasingly elaborate ‘flap’ books, which allowed the reader to unfold layered images in a process of virtual dissection.

In surrealist and postmodern collage, cutting anatomical images out of books enacted a process of dismemberment that sought to undermine the integrity of both the book and the body. I conclude by looking at contemporary book sculpture that takes corporeality as its subject, making particular reference to the themes of cutting and interiority in the work of Brian Dettmer.


SOPHIE RATCLIFFE (Lady Margaret Hall, University of Oxford)

Curl Papers and Papillotes

In the summer of 1839, Bentley’s Miscellany ran a story about an English family abroad. It’s an unremarkable satire –with one distinctive quality: a preoccupation with things capillary. The love-interest, a ‘Byronic’ Frenchman, sports a ‘chain of jet-black hair’, has a sentimental stash of beard-clippings, and counts among his treasures ‘the papillotes of the Princess Hohenloe made out of her husband’s prayer books’. The prayer books must have been recent editions, for pages suitable for ‘papillotes’ or ‘curl papers’ were a specifically nineteenth-century invention. Advances in paper-production had an unintended but direct impact on hair-styling. New, thinner paper allowed for more accurate heat-transfer, producing sharply-coiled ringlets, a boon to enterprising home-stylists, who reused the prized commodity.

From Pickwick’s ‘lady in yellow curl papers’ to Vanity Fair’s vision of ‘rustling’ scalps, an anxiety about texts getting not into –  but onto – one’s head resonates in this period. As prose might be both read and worn in bed, lines between communication and decoration become intriguingly blurred. Drawing on works by Dickens, Smiles, and Jasmin, this paper will consider how the trope of the curl paper was used by writers to probe the utility, and futility, of their own craft.


KAREN SANDHU (Book Artist, London)


Gertrude Stein once said, ‘one of the definitions of modern art is that it be irritating’, irritating in the sense that it provokes an emotional or intellectual response. However, what might a work of art look or feel like if it had the potential to physically irritate the viewer?

In the field of artists’ book, what if a bookwork, through touch and engagement with the page, could provoke a physical reaction? What if the paper was made perverse in the sense that it could, for some, prove too dangerous to touch?

The concept I wish to present is a bookwork which I am currently producing entitled: ‘Irritate’. The bookwork consists of a series of handmade sheets of paper, each comprising of materials known to cause an allergic reaction in humans including cat hair, flower pollen, peanuts. The conflict lies between form and content. The book yearns to be opened and touched; yet touching its pages comes with its own risks for the viewer/reader. The book invites participation however the content resists it.

Points of reference and inspiration include Ed Ruscha’s Stains, Dieter Roth’s food books and Poetrie: Der Halbjahresschrift fur Poesie, for their unorthodox engagement with paper.


WIM VAN MIERLO (The Institute of English Studies, School of Advanced Study, University of London)

Writing Tools: The Manuscript as Every-Day Object

Is it a perversion that we are more interested in the abuses of paper than it is in its uses?  Scholarship on (particularly literary) manuscripts in the modern period (roughly from 1700 to the present) has paid surprisingly little attention to the physical nature of the manuscripts. Archivists take a very ‘distant’ view, and probably rightfully so given the exigencies of cataloguing, in order to ‘describe’ the documents in their care, while critique génétique studies the composition history of a literary often in manner that sidelines the physical object altogether. They frequently speak of ‘lifting’ the text from the page.

As a result, the imaginary and psychic lives that manuscripts play in the life of the writer, and the complex emotional relationship that the manuscript has with his/her manuscripts, is not yet understood. The reasons for this are manifold. The writer’s use of the manuscript might in fact be very mundane. But also the use of manuscripts for writing – and writing itself as a physical and perhaps even a creative activity – has changed very little over the last 300 years. The manuscript of John Milton’s Lycidas is different in degree only from those of Sylvia Plath. I like to speak in this respect of a ‘manuscript culture’ which has continued to exist and to thrive since the invention of movable type, but which not despite but because it looks so familiar is not studied at all.

In this paper, I want to present a number of interesting case studies by way analysing writers’ relationship to the paper and the writing tools they use. These uses vary from the more unusual (Why does Coleridge write on a piece of dried seaweed? Why does Plath have an almost obsessive preference for pink Smith Memorandum writing paper, while Ted Hughes writes on anything that is ready to hand?) to the more commonplace (Why do Wordsworth and Yeats when they write in notebooks often turn these sideways and upside down? What happens to the pages that Tennyson tears out of his notebooks?).

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