This book constructs a vocabulary for the literary study of graphic textual phenomena. It examines the typographic devices within a very particular context: that of the interpretation of prose fiction. The graphic surface of the page is a free two-dimensional space on which text appears either mechanically or consciously. As visual arrangements of printed text on the graphic surface, graphic devices can contribute to the process of reading, combining with the semantic content within the context which that text creates. The book first sets out to demonstrate both how and why the graphic surface has been neglected. It looks at the perception of the graphic surface during reading and how it may be obscured by other concerns or automatised until unnoticed. Then, the book examines some critical assumptions about the transformation of manuscript to novel and what our familiarity with the printed form of the book leads us to take for granted. It looks at theoretical approaches to the graphic surface, particularly those which see printed text as either an idealised sign-system or a representation of spoken language. The book further looks at how 'blindness' to the graphic surface, and particularly its mimetic usage, is reflected and perpetuated in literary criticism. It deals with the work of specific authors, their texts and the relevant critical background, before providing a concluding summary which touches on some of the implications of these analyses.
The most common misinterpretation of the graphic devices in Alasdair Gray's novels is that they are signifiers of postmodernist play and nothing more. Lanark: A Life in Four Books, a large and complex novel, has been included in discussions of Scottish literature, urban writing, science fiction and post-modernism. Lanark: A Life in Four Books extends its narrative to offer a full fictional biography; it does not stop with the suicide that closes Duncan Thaw's bildungsroman but continues into Lanark's adulthood and old age. Lanark is a text which is emphatically conveyed to us by the typographical unity of a book. The chapter shows that through its individual typographical conventions and exceptional visual devices Lanark unites its disjunctions and generates dynamic contextual perspectives for the reader.
B. S. Johnson produced seven novels, two volumes of poetry and a collection of short stories, as well as several plays, screenplays and television scripts, and miscellaneous joint projects. He received awards for Travelling People, Trawl and the short film You're Human like the Rest of Them. Authorial powers, not substantively different from those of an omniscient author in a more conventional novel, are explicitly flaunted in Travelling People in a number of ways that to demonstrate what the convention involves. The major graphic elements of Travelling People appear within the chapters composed of interior monologues. Initially the use of the graphic surface in Albert Angelo does seem to be designed to attract the attention of the reader to the conventions of mimetic representation. One example is the 'specially-designed type-characters' that frame physical descriptions of Albert's pupils.
In this chapter, the author focuses on Christine Brooke-Rose's Thru. The graphic surface of this novel is disrupted more frequently than any other text analysed in depth, but these disruptions are only one aspect of its unconventionality. British reviewers had largely been raised on a diet of postwar realism so perhaps their overall hostility is not surprising, but the bad grace with which these reviewers confronted the unfamiliar was instructive for Thru's author. Thru's combined use of visual and verbal can be seen in the use of the 'driving-mirror' with which the novel begins and which most commentators rightly note as a highly significant motif. The textual motifs generated by the retro-visor, and particularly their visual equivalents, recur across Thru. One of the most noticeable elements of Thru is the way it appears to anchor itself in criticism and theory, particularly the graphic elements employed in these disciplines.
Murphy and Watt are Samuel Beckett's first two completed novels. This chapter considers the ways in which these novels and particularly their graphic devices have been critically interpreted. The climax of Murphy modifies the use of the graphic surface of the book. By comparison with the overall coherence of Murphy, Watt appears to exclude things it could and, sometimes it seems, should contain. Use of the graphic surface in Watt is slightly less varied than that found in Murphy, but incidences are more numerous. The graphic surface of Watt, like that of Murphy before it, is used to foreground instability and generate lack of faith in the text's mediators and ultimately the text itself. Through the use of the graphic surface in his early fiction Beckett has identified and drawn on a fundamental aspect of the codex form.
This conclusion presents some closing thoughts on concepts discussed in the preceding chapters of this book. The book describes the usefulness of a critical awareness of the graphic surface. It outlines the practical and theoretical concerns that have tended to obscure the graphic surface from critical scrutiny and given detailed analyses of a number of problematical texts showing how the graphic surface can contribute to interpretation. Postmodernist criticism has established a critical convention in which the use of the graphic surface always self-consciously signifies the materiality of the text. Beyond implications with regard to the fundamental contact of literature, the meeting of text and reader, there is much close reading to be done of texts which present a distinctive graphic surface. This applies to the work of the authors discussed in the book, that of many others within and outside the British Isles and many non-English writers, past and present.
The graphic surface has been part of the medium of the printed book throughout its history. Thus the utilisation of the graphic surface for effect has been potentially available in all periods since Gutenberg's system of movable type was developed. This chapter considers 'representation' and 'mimesis' rather than 'realism', for reasons of precision and clarity. The effect of modernism distancing itself from realism and thus, somehow, from reality, seems to have been encouraged by favourable as well as hostile criticism and this has its legacy today in the postwar/postmodern period. Literary criticism has always tended to interpret texts diegetically, either as an acknowledged fiction presented by an author, or against a particular standard of representation. By being associated with newer developments in literature, and supposedly leaving convention and representation behind, graphic devices were seen to be mere formal play.
The term 'graphic surface' relates to the face of any page of printed text. The general appearance of any specific page will be largely dependent on the design and technology of the day in which it is printed (or re-printed). Literary texts repeatedly problematise the conventional use of language for their readers, defamiliarising the image or object described, but there are bounds within which this happens; the device of defamiliarisation can work only in a situation which is 'familiar'. Levels operate as an alternative to a naive response that equates textual reality with external reality, or which, put another way, translates text on the principle of perceptual economy. The chapter outlines a particular critical account of the stylistic armoury of postmodernism which includes an influential but inadequate response to the use of graphic devices.
This chapter discusses that the manuscript is the 'real' work and interpretation begins from the manuscript. In considering the status of the written manuscript Walter Benjamin's 'The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction' is useful. The difficulty of variation between editions exposes the lack of fixity in what Fredson Bowers and other textual critics call 'accidentals' and raises the question of what actually constitutes the text. The result of mechanical reproduction is the reproduction of a uniform text; one copy being functionally the same as the next. The chapter considers the example of Tristram Shandy, the uniformity may exist only within individual editions. Individual copies of printed texts may retain an aura of sorts, of individuality if not of uniqueness, linked to our own subjectivity, individuality or egocentricity. The most convenient form for reading pages of text is the codex form.
This chapter examines series of linguistics-based concepts of literary forms, including the post-structuralist concepts of 'the text' and 'writing'. Roland Barthes has stepped through the graphic surface of the page into the conceptual space within text to examine linguistic signifiers and what they signify. The 'text' of structuralism is idealised text, intertextually limitless, whereas specific actual texts must be created and limited by their readers. Linguistics-based analysis routinely ignores the material aspect of any text, despite the fact that it is this materiality, the process of publication that gives the text its communicative power through distance and time and allows it to be discussed by critics. A positive awareness of the signifying power of writing led Derrida to write about a novel that utilised its graphic surface, Philippe Sollers's Numbers, and to write Glas.