Books As Author-less Art Objects
In his now seminal essay, “The Death of the Author,” Roland Barthes wrote, “To give a text an Author is to impose a limit on that text, to furnish it with a final signified, to close the writing.” Ark Codex ±0, newly released from Calamari Press both as a full color print object, and digitally for a “pay what you want” rate, takes the inversion of Barthes’s idea to its mega-limit, not only claiming it has no author, but deforming the page on which the text is laid.
The book is comprised of 144 full-color images (some of which you can view below) containing the book’s main thread, a deformed retelling of Noah’s Ark, mashed together with math and feedback loops and blood. The pages look like maps that have suffered rain. Beneath each image, a more consistently legible footnoted text rewires the reader’s trajectory over and over.
The authorless syntax is unlike anything I’ve read: a hyper-mix of programming language, sampled quotes, messed up symbols, and commands that form a thread as they aggregate. The result is something surely bigger than its size, a book that forces you to feed as much from color, texture, tone, and aura as from its sentences.
If you’re like me, you’re sick of hearing about the possibilities of e-books. Here is a print object that reinvents the possibilities of what is truly still a young and heavily malleable form: a thing you could stare at forever and still find new in.
Calamari Press publisher Derek White answered some questions about the Codex via email.
VICE: Who or what is Ark Codex? Like, there is no author. How did you, Derek White, the publisher, come across it?
White: Ark Codex is a book object authored by and for itself. Not to be all vague or zen, but it is what it is—it’s self-defined. It’s like looking up “dictionary” in the dictionary only to find it’s what you’re holding in your hands. The author is the reader of the book—that’s where any realization of ideas or translation or magic of language happens. The idea of claiming authorship is silly and archaic. The word “author” exudes pompous authority, so maybe this book is a fuck you to “author”-ity, a fuck you to having other people tell you directly, in concise, commanding language, what to think. A fuck you to the ways of the current publishing industry. Other art forms don’t have such a prevailing concept of authorship. Not all painters sign their names to paintings. Any “signature” should be inherent in the style. The reader is the author, and at the same time Ark Codex pays homage to everyone who has used language before us. There could be strings by Blake Butler in Ark Codex ±0 (in fact, if you look you’ll find repurposed samplings from Ever). No writer lives in a vacuum, and no writer owns or has authority over language, or even certain strings of characters or words.
A lot of the textures in the pictures look like maps. Is the book meant to lead somewhere? Is it the place itself?
The entire book takes place at the North Pole, so any geographic travel is psycho-geographical—in the mind of the reader. They (the assembled animals) don’t go anywhere, they are waiting for a flood but it never comes, so the ark just sits there on the ice cap. And since the ark is the book itself, and the ark sits at the North Pole (ground zero for the flood in these times of apocalyptic global warming), then by transitive reasoning, yes, you could say the book is the place…
Read the full interview over at VICE.