In “The Artist’s Book as a Rare and/or Auratic Object,” Johanna Drucker expands on the idea of the “artists’ book.” She examines artistic books as unique, inconsistent objects, which fail to follow standard guidelines of the ‘bookish,’ and shows how these works become fetishized, and/or acquire an artistic “aura.” She does this by examining both the material and immaterial quality of an array of books that present what she calls “a mystique, a sense of charged presence” (93).
Drucker’s argument for what gives a book an “aura,” thereby dubbing it “artistic,” follows essentially the same lines as the argument for innate, unlearnable creative abilities of artists. She emphasizes that the auratic quality is one independent of “reason or conscious analysis.” The identifiable (material) characteristics “produce a fascination which can’t be easily explained” and the supposed psychological and emotional “energy” which attaches to such books likewise “cannot be explained” Auratic books transcend the laws of the universe, producing a (unexplained) “metaphysically charged atmosphere which surrounds the work.” (94.)
As not everyone is up to the challenge of defying physics, a second necessary quality of auratic books in Drucker’s view is that they leave the material plane of the “casual or widespread reader,” instead offering a view of the universe which is “secret and precious” (94). Thus the prevalence of auratic books as private archives—journals and diaries, essentially. She explores this idea most clearly through Betsy Davids’ Sites and Passages, a piece of which contains a bus ticket. The bus ticket, representing a physical removal from home, “allows the physicality of information as material to exist in its own right” (101). However, the bus ticket is not the original, nor could you board a bus with it: the auratic book, after all, is only mean to suggest. The work “feels real, seems authentic, appears original,” while in fact presenting a image, once (or more) removed from ‘reality.’ So the bus ticket, far from being simply “information as material,” instead “transcends its limitations to become an image of conflictual structure,” and due to this nature, of course, “highly charged” (102).
However, journals are common enough now as to be “cliché,” accessible enough in their “predictable scrapbook” composition as to be a simple product of the modern day “cult of individualism” (102). Many journals fail to obtain this auratic quality, then, as a part of the existing social order, when the true intention of auratic pieces is as “interventions into the social order” (109). For Drucker, an escape from the social order is necessarily an escape from the material, for both artist and reader of auratic works—for the creation of an artists’ book must allow the artist “free reign, to let the work happen” (111). The work itself represents a “liberated soul against the dross of a cast-off body” (113), whose mission to readership is to “absorb the viewer into [its] profound depths, rather than offering…communication” (115). The authority, for Drucker, in the writer-text-reader triangle, should lie soundly in the text (if, that is, a work is to be considered ‘artistic’).
Although this entire article seems extremely subjective (in footnote 8, Drucker admits “this is purely my speculation…”), the bit that stood out in particular to me came on page 114 with her examination of Helmut Lohr. His books are artistic, apparently, because of his “tearing, shredding” or even “curling [a book’s] spine and pages.” _So in Drucker’s logic, is my extremely old, dog-eared, torn, bent copy of _Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone auratic?
Since there are so many things to question here, I’ll just stay on page 114. Physical transformations of books produce “a resonance,” Drucker claims. A “resonance” is a quality of sound. Unless we’re still in Harry Potter and the books in the restricted section are screeching at us, books (as she’s referencing) cannot produce a “resonance,” even if they’ve been “baked.” That wasn’t really a question, so I’ll turn it into one: where, exactly, did Drucker study physics?
The worst part of the article, though, was “uniqueness” as one of the fundamental qualities for a book to be considered “artistic.” Artistic (“auratic”) objects are taken seriously, their cultural implications examined closely, and the experiences of their authors are discussed by academics, by ‘policy makers,’ people who matter for change. But if we ignore modern, popular works, we miss most of the world’s experience, something Drucker even touches on later on the article. A book as a “symbol or substitute for the world” represents the “slippage of life from its containment within representation” (119). A book cannot contain the full breadth of experience; by focusing on only a handful of outdated and/or “unique” books, we validate even fewer experiences. What/Who are we losing through this purposeful, academic ignorance?