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[personal profile] mirrorshard
I made this (original blog post) a while ago, and have been thinking about some others in the same style.


The question is, how far is it OK to go here? The technique positively requires tearing up printed matter.

[Poll #1416309]

Date: 2009-06-16 12:03 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] spencerpine.livejournal.com
It's just fair use, surely? You can always use bits of text for fair use. I wouldn't have a problem if you used my book like this.


Date: 2009-06-16 12:06 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mirrorshard.livejournal.com
That's certainly a valid legal statement![1] I'm more interested in peoples' feelings about what it's Right to do to a book, though, and how far those feelings go.

Edit: I'm also very interested in the distinction between text & object, of course.

[1] NB am not a legal professional of any kind. Possibly one of the many who will read this post might have an opinion on the subject, which may either differ from mine, contain nuts, or both.
Edited Date: 2009-06-16 12:23 am (UTC)

Date: 2009-06-16 12:35 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] hecate-x-jones.livejournal.com
While the idea of destroying books is rather existentially disturbing, unless it's a rare and unique utterly irreplaceable copy of something, I can't actually find it in me to care that much.
I think it has more to do with -why- a book is destroyed, more than simply that you are. If you're using particular excerpts to create a piece of art, well, isn't it worth it? Can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs, etc.

It's far more disturbing to me that people will destroy books by being careless or because a certain book simply offends them, and they don't want someone else reading it.

Date: 2009-06-16 09:36 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mirrorshard.livejournal.com
Oh, absolutely. Seeing someone destroy books because they don't want those books to exist, or just don't care enough, is extremely painful.

Date: 2009-06-16 01:18 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] marydell.livejournal.com
Hm, interesting question.

I think it's fine to interact with a book by destroying it or remaking it, as long as you don't print & sell copies of the result (because copyright, blah blah blah). Selling the result itself, as an art object, should be ok, legally/"morally"* because you'd be selling your sole copy of the book. To me this is like people who smash china dishes and make mosaics out of it - if the results are good, the dish did not die in vain.

If you're going to use irreplaceable books, hopefully the results would be brilliant - I'm quite fond of my small antique book collection, and I appreciate the sense that they are special and should be revered, but I don't think other people are under an obligation to feel the way I do about my own books.

If you want to use irreplaceable books that are themselves considered works of art, that would be uncool and it would be better to use a scanned copy. :)

*I can't bring myself to think of reverence for books as being a true moral issue, but it's not nothing-at-all either, so I use "morally" with reservations.

Date: 2009-06-16 11:14 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mirrorshard.livejournal.com
That makes a lot of sense! I don't think I could bring myself to use anything not easily replaceable, but then I'm a hoarder generally.

I'm not sure I'd want to use scanned copies in preference to a different text/instance-of-text, because I'd be hesitant about bringing complicated digital processes into an analogue tool chain. Printing things out seems different because it starts there instead of starting with a particular object and then finding a safe copy of it.

Date: 2009-06-16 06:18 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] strangederby2.livejournal.com
I have a personal fondness for old rare books and would rather you used a new paperback so as not to deprive any collectors but apart from that I have no problem with this. The deep downers will have you killed of course. Then make it look like a troll did it.

Date: 2009-06-16 06:56 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] the-alchemist.livejournal.com
I rather like the description of Trefusis in The Liar. "Books were his religion, but his worship was low church" (or similar - I don't have it in front of me). I find the veneration of books as physical objects, as opposed to for their content, a bit annoying.

Date: 2009-06-16 09:38 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mirrorshard.livejournal.com
Mm, that's a nice quote. I don't think I'd go so far as to venerate books, but I have a lot of appreciation for them as art or craft objects completely separately from how I feel about the text.

Date: 2009-06-16 10:18 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] the-alchemist.livejournal.com
I certainly appreciate many books as art or craft objects. But there's an attitude that somehow judges books on different criteria from other art or craft objects, affords them intrinsic worth simply because they are books - that's the thing I find annoying.

Destroying a really good art object to make a less good art object is clearly a stupid and bad thing to do. So is destroying a better art object when a worse one (or something outside the 'art object' category) would do. Whether or not any of the objects are books is irrelevant. Cutting up a non-book to make it into a book should be subject to exactly the same considerations.

But the only instance of cutting up books for art I think would be absolutely wrong, would be to take a book that belongs to a culture you don't belong to, and use it in a way that many people who do belong to that culture would hate - the Koran being the main example I can think of.

Date: 2009-06-16 11:06 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mirrorshard.livejournal.com
[T]here's an attitude that somehow judges books on different criteria from other art or craft objects, affords them intrinsic worth simply because they are books

Mm, I see what you mean. I like Milton's take on it - For books are not ultimately dead things, but contain a potency of life in them equal to that soul whose progeny they are - but I still find the Cult of the Book extremely annoying (http://www.eithin.co.uk/2008/05/blood-on-paper-at-v.html).

I agree completely with the rest of your comment!

Date: 2009-06-16 12:07 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] elettaria.livejournal.com
If you're going to upset some people by cutting up their holy book, I can't see how it's relevant whether you belong to their culture or not. You're still offending them.

Date: 2009-06-16 01:24 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] the-alchemist.livejournal.com
I wouldn't feel it was my place to criticise a Muslim who chose to cut up a copy of the Koran to use it in an artwork, though neither would I see it as my place to criticise other Muslims who were offended by that.

But I think the same act done by a white, English, non-Muslim has a different meaning, and it would be likely to be part of a system of oppression that I, as a white Christian, am part of, and want to take steps to extricate myself from. I therefore think it would be absolutely my place to criticise.

Date: 2009-06-16 02:54 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] elettaria.livejournal.com
Er, Death of the Author? There are two separate issues here: what is the meaning of the text in itself, and what is the meaning of the act. As you say, the meaning of the act will depend on who's doing it, though some people will actually consider it worse if it's done by an insider (who is committing deliberate blasphemy, as opposed to someone who may not have known any better). But the meaning of the text remains. If someone is going to be offended by the destruction of their holy book, they will be offended no matter who destroyed it. How they feel about the destroyed book is different to how they feel about the destroyer of the book.

I come from a culture where destroying a holy book would be considered highly offensive, by the way. Any book containing the name of God is treated with great respect in Judaism, including the practice of putting it on the top shelf so that it's above all other books, and ritually burying worn-out prayerbooks. The primary response would be to what's happened to the book. The secondary response would be concern at the intention of the art, whether it was an act of anti-semitism, whether it was a deliberate protest from within Judaism, or whether it was in fact someone challenging the concept of books being holy and arguing for a different construction of holiness, or making a commentary on the fragmentary nature of the Bible, for instance. (Actually, which response was primary and which was secondary would depend on whether it's the sort of thing you call the police about or whether it's the sort of thing you kindly but firmly tell someone isn't really done.) Similarly, if this imagined blasphemous artwork were to be exhibited, people wouldn't just be writing unpleasant things about the artist in the newspapers, they'd also be calling for the artwork to be taken out of the exhibition and possibly given some sort of religious treatment (e.g. ritual burial).

I'm not sure that "oppression" is the most accurate term here. It's not the same as hate crime, for instance, and destruction of holy books is often a hate crime. There's a lot of difference between someone destroying a holy book as an act of hatred and violence against people belonging to a religion, and someone doing it because they thought it would be artistically interesting and failed to realise that they were doing something forbidden by that religion. I think this conversation has been losing sight of the fact that destruction of holy books isn't something purely theoretical, it's been something that's happened a great many times and in a very different way from what we're talking about. You can't lose that history when you're talking about this subject.

I also strongly disagree with the notion that people are not permitted to speak about a system unless they're a part of it. Acknowledging that you're an outsider, have different vested interests, and different levels of knowledge, is not the same as being made to keep silent. An obvious example of this is breaches of human rights which people justify on religious or cultural grounds.

...and that just got terribly serious and a mite snappish. Sorry about that, I'm having a bit of a week and things are coming out a little on the harsh side. The arguments still apply, though! Though we're getting a bit off-topic, [livejournal.com profile] mirrorshard clearly has no intention of taking pot shots at any religion by cutting up their prayerbooks.
Edited Date: 2009-06-16 02:55 pm (UTC)

Date: 2009-06-16 03:21 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] the-alchemist.livejournal.com
I confess I don't really understand the relevance of what you're saying. I'm not making any comment on how offended anyone should be about their holy books being destroyed, or what the balance is or should be between being offended at the act or being offended at the meaning of the act.

And I'm certainly not suggesting that anyone should be "made to keep silent" about cultures they're not a part of. It's possible to decide to keep silent oneself without trying to force other people to do the same!

Date: 2009-06-16 03:19 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] elettaria.livejournal.com
Put another way, and getting away from the grisly image of someone raiding a house of worship and making a bonfire of the holy books (which is, let's face it, the main way in which malicious destruction of holy books occurs), let's imagine that I decide to cut up Genesis and make a collage as a way of exploring the fragmentary nature and multivocality of the text, comparing different accounts of the same events, comparing different translations. The collage would interrogate various readings of the Bible, but it would be done in a spirit of academic respect.

I was raised Jewish, and until a few years ago was a practising Liberal Jew. I now consider myself to be an atheist. Liberal Jews have completely different opinions on a great many subjects to ultra-Orthodox Jews, and this sort of artwork would get completely different responses from those two denominations. Would one response be more valid than the other? Would it be different if I had done this four years ago, while still a believing and practising Jew? What about the Christians? Genesis is part of their holy scripture as well.

Some people would say that I had disrespected the holy book and that it was an attack on the religion (and I suspect that if they were Christian, they may well view it as an attack on Christianity regardless of the original context). Some people would say that it was an exciting new approach to biblical criticism. Other people would write articles discussing both points of view, and querying the validity of certain responses due to inconsistent internal logic ("so you write in the margins of your Bible but you don't think it should be cut up because that's damaging the page?"). Someone would say that it was blasphemous to damage a text that could have been used for devotional purposes, and someone else would point out that I only used books which were already too damaged to use in that way, and anyway, where does it say in the Bible that you can't cut up its pages? Someone neither Jewish nor Christian, but well-versed in theology, would pop in and cite Rabbi So-and-so as a development of a point someone else had made, or discuss a translation problem. I can't see any reason why anyone should be excluded from that sort of debate. And if someone were to decide that I was a heretic and needed to be burned at the stake, I would damn well hope that the police would intervene regardless of their personal religious beliefs.
Edited Date: 2009-06-16 03:21 pm (UTC)

Date: 2009-06-16 03:42 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] the-alchemist.livejournal.com
I can't see any reason why anyone should be excluded from that sort of debate.

Nor can I! But I can see lots of reasons why people might choose not to participate, and some of them have to do with white privilege, Christian privilege or secular privilege.

Date: 2009-06-16 07:04 am (UTC)
taimatsu: (Default)
From: [personal profile] taimatsu
The only book I've dismembered for a project (a typography thing which required me to make a book mockup) was a) second-hand and b) about the worst book I have ever read. (Fortunately the text was not important to the project.) I don't think I'd feel comfortable cutting up books I liked.

Date: 2009-06-16 09:39 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mirrorshard.livejournal.com
Mm, that makes a lot of sense. I've done play scripts in the past (two copies, large notebook, prompt book) but that feels entirely different.

Date: 2009-06-16 08:24 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fu-manchu12.livejournal.com
I'm not sure I could bring myself to dismember any book for any non-essential purpose, but material printed from a printer or photocopier is completely fine as far as I'm concerned. The legal implications are less worrying too.

Date: 2009-06-16 09:47 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mirrorshard.livejournal.com
I'd normally agree with you on the first point, but books are less reified than they used to be, these days. Scanning and printing is obviously fine, but they're functionally identical to taking the text block out of the book and using that, if the book itself is replaceable.

Date: 2009-06-16 09:33 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kateqp.livejournal.com
The artist in me thinks that this is flipping cool, loves the idea, and almost wants to own one made from a favoured book.

The librarian in me is cringing in horror because the books are my friends and you can't hurt them like that.

I think the compromise is to use books that are common and easily replaceable, unless there is a compelling reason otherwise. If you want to use a rare/valuable text I'd suggest a scanned copy and preserve the original intact.

Date: 2009-06-16 09:48 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mirrorshard.livejournal.com
I have the same pair of instinctive reactions, so this is what I'm thinking.

Date: 2009-06-16 11:11 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dasquian.livejournal.com
I have a very irrational outlook to this one: on one hand I like accumulating things and hate things I own getting lost or damaged. In the case of books, this means that I don't like lending them out or selling them, and accumulate them into my library even if I don't read them more than once.

On the other hand, this is cool and I would have no problems doing it to a copy of the Metro, an old magazine, or a book bought explicitly for the purpose of turning into such art.

I'd absolutely put gifted books, author-signed books and rare/valuable/out-of-print books into the "do not touch" category though!

As for the legal angle... I'm no lawyer so I have no idea what protections the art gives you! Though I would assume making it unreadable as a work of text would assist a fair use claim.

Date: 2009-06-16 11:14 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dasquian.livejournal.com
Further thought: what if the point of the art piece is to explicitly do it to a well-worn book? Does that make it more significant as a work of art, that something cherished has been sacrificed to make it? Or is that just pretentious?

As previously stated, I would find making such art very difficult. So I'm not sure how I'd feel about someone doing this to their favourite book, a diary, their now-adult kid's childhood art, etc.

Date: 2009-06-16 11:22 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mirrorshard.livejournal.com
I'm not sure how I'd feel about someone doing this to their favourite book, a diary, their now-adult kid's childhood art, etc.

I'd find it extremely upsetting, but that's definitely a valid artistic statement and I'd never tell them not to do it. Unless it was the only copy of some important or really useful text, of course - like great-grandmother's diary. I suppose that's the distinction between "cherished" and "universally important" - whether or not the artist has the moral right to sacrifice it.

It would certainly make it more significant to some people, but nobody with half a brain cell will tell you there's any objective significance to it.

Date: 2009-06-16 12:04 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] elettaria.livejournal.com
Meh. I live with the manager of a charity bookshop, I know perfectly well that books are thrown out all the time. Go to a charity (book)shop and ask for some of the books that would otherwise be sent for pulping. That way you can feel that you're really recycling.

Date: 2009-06-16 12:21 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ashfae.livejournal.com
Oh man, this question is a librarian's nightmare! I really don't know. There are pretty strict rules about what's permissible to use under copyright laws but applying them to something like would be very difficult. What an interesting question. I'm tempted to ask about in librarian newsgroups and see what others think.

Date: 2009-06-16 12:23 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ashfae.livejournal.com
As regards destroying books to make art, I have no problem with that so long as they aren't first edition works of art etc or such; paperbacks are easily replaced. Once I would have found it disturbing because I love books so, but that was before I worked in a bookstore and was often given the job of destroying books...(at first I refused, but my bosses were canny and said "Here, start with the true crime...", which I loathed so much that it was a distinct pleasure to shred them)

Date: 2009-06-16 12:43 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mirrorshard.livejournal.com
*laughs* That makes perfect sense!

Date: 2009-06-16 02:15 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ashfae.livejournal.com
Oh, they were clever! First the true crime, then the horror, and then they had me do the fiction that we had ten million extraneous copies of and no shelf-space for (really, we could have filled two shelves with Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood alone), and by that point the mystique had worn a bit thin. ;) It was all very funny.

Date: 2009-06-16 02:33 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] elettaria.livejournal.com
This must have been before the days of the Da Vinci Code, then. That's always the first one I think of.

Date: 2009-06-16 05:20 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ashfae.livejournal.com
Thank heavens, yes, several years before that.

Date: 2009-06-16 12:59 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] elettaria.livejournal.com
[livejournal.com profile] mirrorshard and I are currently discussing the various options for acquiring books in a way that would feel comfortable, and it reminded me of this (http://chiuster.blogspot.com/2007/06/weekend-update.html), which everyone should read. I'd still love to do something like form a project for collecting up random pages that have fallen out of books. I can't think of a better end for them.
Edited Date: 2009-06-16 01:01 pm (UTC)

Date: 2009-06-16 02:13 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] webcowgirl.livejournal.com
After working in a book store, I no longer see books as anything other than pulped wood - most of them were made to be disposable in the long run. I wouldn't hesitate to tear apart a mass produced book that was still in print. An out of print book (which didn't have 20K extra copies available) or a well bound book with a lovely cover - I'd hesitate, but it's just very rare that any given book you might see wouldn't have a thousand duplicates waiting to take its place.

(There is something about ripping the covers off of paperbacks and throwing the bodies of the books in the garbage that does just kill your soul.)

Date: 2009-06-16 06:47 pm (UTC)
ext_78940: (Default)
From: [identity profile] yoyoangel.livejournal.com
I'm not sure I'd be able to destroy a book for no good reason, but I think this is a good reason (with obvious caveats about rare out-of-print things).

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