Centre for the History of the Book

Dr Luisa Calè

Dr Luisa Calè's symposium presentation is called "Book Disorders: Composite Forms and the Alternative Possibilities of the Disbound Page".

Luisa Calè

Senior Lecturer in Romantic Studies

  • Birkbeck University of London

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Luisa Calè works on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century literature, visual culture, and material culture. The intersection between the book and the Romantic museum reveals an intermedial poetics that cuts across current disciplines and divisions of knowledge. How do Romantic museums and galleries shape practices of reading, writing, and collecting? Dr Calè’s current research addresses questions of intermedial translation and adaptation, multisensorial cultural practices, Romantic aesthetics, and critical disciplinarity. Poised between the page and the gallery wall, the imaginary museum and the museum of words, her work offers new interpretations of Blake, Edgeworth, Fuseli, Leigh Hunt, Lamb, and Milton, among others. Her current project, entitled ‘The Book Unbound’, explores practices of reading and collecting that question, subvert, or dismantle the book as a cultural form, including Walpole, Blake, and Dickens, from extra-illustration to artists’ books.

"Book Disorders: Composite Forms and the Alternative Possibilities of the Disbound Page"

This paper explores the book as a composite form through practices that subvert and dismantle its bibliographic codes, dislocate its orders, and reassemble and reinscribe one book within another. In ‘The Fantasia of the Library’, Michel Foucault locates an imaginary that ‘is born and takes shape in the interval between books’, but I will use the extra-illustrated book as a starting point for exploring practices that disturb continuities and partitions that define the book as a discrete object, subvert the intervals instituted by the boundaries and orders of books, and the alternative forms of the disbound page.

In William Blake’s America the torn book stands for the iconoclastic revolt against the impositions of sacred codes. After experimenting with a uniform medium through ‘a method that combines the painter and the poet’, Blake engaged with a book composite that staged the separation of media on the surface of the page. In the mid 1790s the publisher Richard Edwards provided him with an edition of Edward Young’s Night Thoughts, with each page disbound and mounted in windows extending their surface from quarto to folio size. This altered book became a support for Blake to produce 537 watercolour designs to ‘encircle the letterpress of each page’. 43 designs from this preparatory book were engraved and published by Edwards in an edition of the first four Nights in 1797. In turn Blake used proofs of the engravings as surfaces of inscriptions in his Vala manuscript. The dissemination of the proofs opens up new spaces of composition within the manuscript by disanchoring the illustrations from their original texts and disordering the units and sequence of the original book.

The redistributions, combinations, and composition in Blake’s engagements with Night Thoughts open up questions in the dynamics of unbound and disbound forms at the intersections between the orders of the book, the gallery, and the archive. Whether pages are considered as part of a textual continuum, specimens of letterpress, or designs can determine whether the book is considered as a medium to be preserved in its integrity as an archival object or as a composite to be broken down into constituent elements redistributed according to different divisions of knowledge. I am interested in thinking about the dynamics of proofs and different states of a print considered as separate plates or bound up in volume form. I would also like to explore the relationship between the composite page and the practice of disbinding and rebinding at the heart of extra-illustration in relation to the archival afterlife of works preserved in paper-mountings. Finally, I’d be interested in discussing the dynamic of disbound pages in relation to their digital remediations.