Thursday, 15 August 2013

The Structure of the Book

The first major decision that I had to make about Utopia/Dystopia was about the actual form of the book itself. At the beginning, I was considering a number of options, including the creation of two books (either as completely separate codices or bound together in a dos-à-dos fashion) one entitled 'Utopia' and the other 'Dystopia'; I was also considering putting two volumes together in one volume, in such a way that the book could be read starting from either the back or front, with some parts rotated 180 degrees in relation to others, ideas I had previously experimented with in some of my hand-made books (particularly the book-poem 'Lily'). However, as I read and researched, these approach seemed to me to be both facile and inadequate; it quickly became obvious that the observation that 'one person's Utopia is another person's Dystopia' was not merely a witty bon mot; in fact, the concept of Dystopia had arisen largely out of satire and critical re-interpretation of the concept of Utopia, and thus to separate out the concepts was meaningless, and did a disservice to the understanding of both.

So, I went in search of other structures. As previously stated, in my last book, Vectis, I used a structure that was taken from nature. This was appropriate to a piece that dealt with the natural world. Since Utopia/Dystopia dealt with works of fiction, it seemed like it might be a good idea to try and derive some sort of structure from a work of fiction. I looked at a number of works, including The Republic, Utopia and Gulliver's Travels, as well as works not obviously linked to the themes such as Don Quixote, Ulysses and 120 Days of Sodom but failed to find anything that seemed promising. The only remnant of these ideas that made it into the final work is the titles of the ten sections of the chapter 'Heaven/Hell' which are named after the circles of hell and heaven in Dante's Divine Comedy.

The idea for the current section titles came when I decided that Utopia/Dystopia, which had up until that point been a working title, would serve as the final title. This false dichotomy, along with some of the directions my thinking had been taking, suggested the division into sections with similar names. Just as the distinction between Utopia and Dystopia was unclear, so I wanted the distinction between the others to be unclear. At first, they seem to suggest a very definite, black and white view of the universe, with one set of concepts (such as Sex, Heaven and Order) associated with Utopia and the other (such as Death, Hell and Chaos) associated  with Dystopia; however, the slippage between the two concepts in the title suggests a slippage between the other concepts as well, and this is further suggested and explored constantly throughout the book, in both subtle and obvious ways. The order, number and names of the sections was subject to change until fairly late in the project; at first, the section entitled Order/Chaos did not exist, and there was a section entitled Art/Science. At this stage, the book was ordered into six chapters:


With Sex/Death and Culture/Nature being visual essays (the decision to explore this form in more depth was one I had taken early on). As you can see, this order is somewhat different from the finished article, as is the contents. The first thing I did, once I had written out this scheme, was begin to write a stream of consciousness to guide the research and content creation for each section. This is the stream for Heaven/Hell:

Utopia as a concept. Thomas More. Atlantis. Connecction to the Christian concept of Millennialism. Requirement for apocalypse. The Antichrist. Hassan I Sabbah. Similarities between the legends of the Hashashim and Al Qaeda. The Power of Nightmares – Islamic terrorism as a convenient myth. Evidence of a Manichean worldview. Christian dialogues of the eternal war of good vs. evil. William Blake-Visionary, book design. Jerusalem.  Christian intentional communities. Diggers. Branch Davidians. Conspiracy theories, as further expression of the Christian apocalyptic worldview. Satan as the ultimate conspiracist. Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The political utility of conspiracy theories via the enablement of demonization. Nazism, the roots of fascism and its intimate connections to futurism. Futurist Manifesto.  Non-western visions of Utopia.
As you can see, this is extremely different from what actually ended up in the book, and gives some sense of how vast the subject I chose to tackle is.

Once I have decided on the general form of a book, the first thing I do is to lay it out in a very rough form in Adobe InDesign, to get a sense of the flow. Initially, I was planning on printing and binding Utopia/Dystopia myself (This proved impossible, and was, I think, always something of a pipe dream; honestly, it would require twice the allotted time of an MA unit to adequately undertake such a task), thus, my schemes for the length of each section were taking into account the physical structuring of the book. My first plan was for a book of 340 pages, with two 20 page long sections (consisting of separate quires of 5 sheets each, perhaps in a different paper) bookending a main section of 300 pages, containing 5 quires of 15 sheets, each being 60 pages. Heaven/Hell and Art/Science were to each have their own quire, and the shorter length of the Sex/Death and Culture/Nature sections would allow the break between Drugs/Religion and Magic/Politics to fall exactly in the centre of the book. I created a crude model of this structure to help me visualise the book. As I began to work on the book, and think about the structure of the fore and aft sections, this gradually changed to become a total book length of 332 pages, with 83 sheets arranged in two quires of 16 and thee of 17 sheets, before this general concept was completely abandoned. The final book is significantly shorter than this early version, the ideas contained within edited and condensed. Using a size of A5 pages (and A4 sheets) seemed natural given the printing technology on hand, not to mention my long-standing, nigh-on mystical love affair with the ISO 216 system of paper sizes, which I consider to be one of the most elegant and perfect things ever designed by humanity. As it turned out, practical considerations eventually forced me to have the book printed in the similiar, though subtly inferior, US Trade sizing. The conversion of the book to this size, however, was achieved by simply extending the coloured bars at the size of each page out a fraction, leaving the actual contents intact in A5 size formatting, which I considered to be a suitable compromise.

The process of refining this structure into the one found in the final book was, as previously stated, quite lengthy. The first major change was the addition of the Order/Chaos chapter. The first concept of this chapter bears no relation to what ended up in the book; it was originally intended to be a short chapter found directly in the centre of the book, between the Drugs/Religion and Magic/Politics sections, and to be distinct in design and feel from the other sections; building on the ideas of Vectis, I was considering a photographic record of two walks, arranged side by side, one considering my home town as a dystopia, the other as a dystopia, accompanied by a poem. This was intended to function as a 'palette cleanser' or intermission in the middle of the book, but the concept never quite gelled, and as the book developed further seemed to fit in less and less. Eventually, Order/Chaos was moved to the end, to function as some sort of coda, at the same time as the rest of the book was restructured. Art/Science was removed, and the chapter titles were re-ordered, with a commensurate change in which would be a visual essay and which something else. What this coda would actually consist of was up in the air for a long time. At one point, it was to contain an essay about the nature of digital art, intended to be allegorical towards the main subject, but it became clear that that subject was both too big and too unrelated to the central theme; instead, what I created will form the core of what I hope to be my first big post-MA personal book project, tentatively entitled A Technical Manifesto of Digital Painting. The decision to make Order/Chaos a visual essay was the last major change to the structure of the book, apart from the introduction of the 'spacers' containing the faded Utopia and Dystopia logos between the sections. These were derived from some of the book-structuring theories of Keith Smith, essentially functioning as 'internal endpapers' for each section, enforcing the fact that each is intended to be able to stand alone (though obviously they are strengthened by the others). For a brief while, I considered the possibility of binding each section, and the introduction and after sections, as seperate saddle-stitched books with their own covers, and placing them in a box so they could be re-ordered and read in any order (a slightly more conventional version of Marcel Deuchamp's Green Box) but decided against it; I also considered including numbers for each chapter and suggesting that a roll of the dice decide the reading order, a nod to Stéphane Mallarmé's Un Coup de Dés Jamais N'Abolira Le Hasard (A Throw of the Dice Will Never Abolish Chance) and also to the pleasing connection between Choose Your Own Adventure books and Jorge Luis Borge's concept of The Garden of Forking Paths, Borges being a recurring theme in my work. Eventually, however, I began to realise that the work would be stronger if it built on itself in a conventional way. Thus, the internal endpapers; initially, these only took up two pages between the chapters, but I realised that, when considering the book as a physical object being read, it would be more pleasing and significant to have to actually turn a leaf between each section.

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