I have listed the individual research projects below. An overall description of the project, its aims, and scope – based on the text of the research application – is filed under Project.

Project 1 (Applicant)

Researcher: Kiene Brillenburg Wurth

Title: Palimpsests: Altered Books and Treated Texts as Analog Hypermedia 1990-2010


A. Etchings

THE IDEA: Cut the bindings off of books found at a used book store. Find poems in the pages by the process of obliteration. Put pages in the mail and send them all around the world. Lather, rinse, repeat. Altered Books (

Altered Books is a collaborative artistic project: recalling object trouvé and mail art (Welch 1995), it is part of an analog network aesthetics that can be traced to the 1960s, but that has been claimed as a novelty of the digital age (Scholder & Crandall 2001; Pressmann 2006). As a work of obliteration, Altered Books builds specifically on the classic example of Tom Phillips’ A Humument (1970-),the brilliant and ongoing visual re-inscription of W.H. Mallock’s novel A Human Document (1892) (, and on excised word-poems like Ronald Johnson’s Radi os(1977), a reduction of Milton’s Paradise Lost. Thus, Altered Books creatively eradicates texts, (by means of pencil strikethroughs, painted images, graphic design, or pasted images) leaving only a few legible words on a page, which can be read as poetic fragments (cf. “He reached rolled pulled closed refused” – extracted from one paragraph). As a communal activity, the eradicating is interactive, as the members of the network respond to each other’s work. Even where book-altering is performed by a single author-designer (Will Ashford, Karen Hatzigeorgiou), it is still ’collaborative’ in the creative engagement with found print texts.

B. Excavations
I begin with an existing book and seal its edges, creating an enclosed vessel…I cut into the surface of the book and dissect through it from the front. I work with knives, tweezers and surgical tools to carve one page at a time, exposing each layer while cutting around ideas and images of interest…Images and ideas are revealed to expose alternate histories and memories. My work is a collaboration with the existing material and its past creators. Brian Dettmer (

Apart from etching, book-altering has evolved as a mode of creative, sculptural excavation in the last two decades, with new and established artists like Brian Dettmer and Douglas Beube leading the field. Using discarded books of knowledge (maps, encyclopaedia’s) (Brian Dettmer) or works of fiction (Jennifer Khoshbin) excavators re-present the book as an object, testing its limits, its known functions, and/or the interpretations attached to it: the selective removal and reworking of book- and page matter allows new ideas to emerge.

Research has been performed into the history of altered books as visual artefacts (Drucker & Bernstein 1998, Bright 2005, Wasserman et al 2006, Murphet 2009) and their artistic lineage –My project focuses on etching and excavation as book-altering practices that have flourished among (groups of) professional and amateur artist/author/designers during the last two decades. It develops critical tools to analyze the ways in which such practices:

1. evolve in material contrast to the digitization of print, though they depend on the internet as a network of marketing and display, distribution and communication;
2. explore the potential of paper, print, and book as hybrid material, refashioning the book and the page as Gesamtkunst (newly integrating word & image, word & sculpture, or word & graphic design);
3. display book- and page-works as the visible imprint of an act of reading/scanning, forged as a singular, auratic materiality, yet based on an appropriated source text/book;
4.    may thus indicate a recycling of pre-modern manuscript culture (Avrin 1991, Marotti 1995, Chartier 2005) in which texts were freely erased, reused, or enriched (palimpsests), foregrounding reading and writing as intertwined, interactive processes;
5.    thus help us to rethink the cultural significance of authorship in an age when copyrights and open access are hotly debated and authorship is becoming increasingly complex.

Central aim
This project aims to make an integrated inventory and analysis of two currents of book-altering (etching and excavating) that have evolved during the last two decades, and account for the ways in which they reshape autography and authorship in the age of media multiplicity. On this basis, and on the basis of the 2 phd-projects, the project offers a synthesis of the (inter)disciplinary transformations of literature and their consequences for academic research.

The project employs the concepts of hybridity and materiality, singularity and authenticity as central analytical concepts.

The critical analytical tools for this project are derived from:

*materialist hermeneutics (McGann 1991) and media-specific analysis (Hayles 2002);

*word-image analysis and intermedial iconicity (Mitchell 1994, 2005; Wagner 1996);

*poetics analysis (on the basis of interviews, commentaries, and/or discussion boards).

The contrastive framework with contemporary digital literature is based on previous research (Brillenburg 2006, 2011) and on existing research (Bolter 1991; Aarseth 1997; Stefans 2003; McGann 2001; Morris & Swiss 2006; Perloff 2008; Kirschenbaum 2008).

Altered hybrid books materially diverge from digital hypermedia, but like these hypermedia they rethink and refashion print-based literary practice by testing 1] the limits of the book; 2] the limits of authorship; 3] the coherence of the literary ‘work’ as a stable, integral unit.

Corpus and focus
The corpus will be selected from the work of leading artists, important exhibitions, and interactive groups (professional as well as amateur) of book-altering in the last two decades. With respect to etching, the corpus will be focused on the afterlife of A Humument as a key work in text- or page-treating (Will Ashford, Karen Hatzigeorgiou, Sara Wohrf, Mary Jane Kidd, Treated Text group on Flickr, Altered Books group, all building on Phillips’ work). With respect to excavating, the focus will be on new (Dettmer, Jennifer Khoshbin, Sophia Michahelles, Patricia Kaczmarek, Nicole Duennebier) and established (Douglas Beube) artist/author/designers that have reshaped book-art as a mode of autopsy and archeology.

Project 2 (Phd)

Researcher: Inge van de Ven, MA

Title: The Novel and the New: Graphic Fiction in the Digital Age

Since Danielewski’s House of Leaves, a mode of fiction has evolved that can be classified as liberature, referring to book, page, and print, their shape and texture, as a literary work in itself: form and content creatively and inextricably intermingled (Bazarnik & Fajfer 2005). Typically, this concerns (found) print fictions that have been (re)shaped by means of montage (pure cut-and-paste novels consisting of found text fragments: Graham Rawle’s Woman’s World 2005) and/or concrete text forms that perform (aspects of) a narrative visually (Only Revolutions, Steve Erickson’s Our Ecstatic Days, 2005). This project approaches such fictions as ‘graphic fictions’: verbal narratives foregrounding typographic design as a palpable and structural dimension of the narrative. Existing research on this novel genre has been limited to House of Leaves (Hayles 2002, Pressmann 2006). By contrast, this project offers an integrated analysis of the genre, analyzing how and why it recycles modernist techniques of collage, montage, and typography within the constraints of linear narration.

Central aim
The project aims to trace and integrate the history and contemporary practice of graphic fiction and analyze how and to what extent these fictions adapt or transform verbal storytelling.

The project employs hybridity and materiality, singularity and authenticity as central analytical concepts. The critical analytical tools for this project are derived from:

*media-specific analysis (Hayles 2002);

*word-image analysis and intermedial iconicity (Mitchell 1994, 2005; Wagner 1996);

*poetics analysis (on the basis of interviews, commentaries, and/or discussion boards).

NB: the contrastive framework with contemporary digital literature is the same as in Project 1.


Graphic fiction indicates how the novel continues to function as a vehicle of the new and the contemporary (Bakhtin 1934), as it makes us aware of the changing significance of text and textuality (what defines text as text), reading and writing, in the age of media multiplicity.

The corpus consists of a representative list of graphic fictions that together indicate the major developments of the genre since 2000:

-Alberto Hernandez, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (2009)

-Paul Auster/Glen Thomas,The Inner Life of Martin Frost (2008); My Mouth is Tired Now (2006)

-Paul Boogaers, Onderlangs (2007)

-Mark Z. Danielewski, Only Revolutions (2006); House of Leaves (2000)

-Steven Hall, The Raw Shark Texts (2006)

-Graham Rawle, Woman’s World (2005)

-Steve Erickson, Our Ecstatic Days (2005)

+ many other innovative literary texts from the last two decades.

Project 3 (Phd):

Researcher: Sara Rosa Espi, MA

Title: Self-Expression in Personal Zines

Communal writing and networked writing is usually seen as a new phenomenon made possible by new digital technologies. This project questions such assumption by focusing on the perzine: a hand-made, non-professionally, non-commercially produced and distributed personal manuscript (Duncombe 1997). Distributed on street corners or through regular mail, personal zines are here approached as paper-based modes of networked self-expression, with their own matter, infrastructure, and modes of distribution, parallel to the electronic highway.

Like book-altering, perzines at once parallel and swerve from digital modes of self-expression, publishing, and linking. Thus, like internet journals and weblogs, perzines are self-made and self-published, and part of a community of readers that are often also makers and tend to swap zines amongst each other (Poletti 2003, 2008). However, perzines also diverge from the digital as part of a paper-based culture that does not reflect the latest trends in digital self-publishing and self-presentation, but recycle manuscript culture and 19th-century amateur publishing and distributing and continues fragmentary text modes (collage) descending from modernist paper-based cutting and pasting techniques, integrating different media and techniques of mediation.

Central aim
This subproject investigates how perzines recycle manuscript culture and have thus functioned as paper-based alternatives to digital hypermediated self-expression in the last decade.

The project employs hybridity and materiality, singularity and authenticity as central analytical concepts. Added to this are theories on participatory (sub)culture and identity formation in alternative media (Jenkins 1992, Hebdige 2002, Atton 2002, Bailey & Michel 2004).

Within this conceptual framework, the phd project uses two methodologies:

*media-specific analysis

*poetics analysis (on the basis of interviews, commentaries, and/or discussion boards).

Personal zines materially diverge from web-based modes of self-documentation, but likewise indicate a shift from writing as a representational to a communicative practice, predicated on intense self-expression and the presence of zinester communities and reader response.

Corpus and focus:
Focused on American perzines between 1990 and 2010, the research mines the collection of perzines in two libraries and selected zine distributors (‘distro’s’):

-Denver Zine Library:

-Floating Zine Collection of the University of Iowa Libraries:


-Microcosm publishing

The collections are studied for a two-year period, and then selected for a compressed focus.


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