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Between The Past You Can’t Live In and The Future You Can’t Imagine

We know that the equation between word and thing can no longer be taken for granted, and that words are made up of both syllables and sounds. Does this mean a poet — one who uses transparent language and writes in an autobiographical mode — is incapable of exploring the conditions of meaning? By transparent, I mean a plain language that can be used to reach the largest audience possible without losing any relevant information. Or must the language the poet uses be opaque and resistant, like reality itself?

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The Subconscious Landscape of the Printed Book

As book lovers mourn the dematerialization of the printed word, rare booksellers like Heather O’Donnell remain upbeat. She’s part of an ardent group of believers — a new generation flame tenders who are dedicated to keeping books safe in the electronic storm of Kindles and Nooks. For the upcoming Designers & Books Fair 2012 (October 26–28), she has curated an exhibit of stellar printing and binding design over the past three centuries. It makes an eloquent case for the notion that beauty will keep the printed book alive.

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“The Wire” Gets Victorian in a Book by Fictional Scholar H.B. Ogden

Like the ever-present junkies on the TV show “The Wire,” fans of the acclaimed HBO series can never seem to get enough. Legions of viewers stayed glued to the tangled plot over five seasons — and their cravings were stoked for five years more through blogs, behind-the-scenes books, essays, college courses, and literally hundreds of scholarly articles and reviews. Now, on the show’s 10th anniversary, “The Wire” addicts can score a fresh fix with the arrival of the arch, smart faux-Victorian send-up of the series, Down in the Hole: The Unwired World of H.B. Ogden, by Joy DeLyria and Sean Michael Robinson (PowerHouse Books, 2012), based on a blog that went viral last March.

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I Read Banned Books …

Even though Hyperallergic is primarily a blog about art and visual culture, there’s no question that we’re also super nerds who read a lot. So I felt it would be remiss if we didn’t pay at least a short tribute to Banned Books Week, an annual celebration of books and literacy and the freedom for everyone to read whatever the hell he or she wants, which unfortunately is still more of an ideal than a universal practice.

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The Sore Subject of Family Dynamics

The family unit, siblings, extended family, and the individuals who make up these large trees, is the subject of photographer Lydia Panas’ hardback book of glossy, meticulous portraits, aptly titled The Mark of Abel. Thinking back on the biblical story of Cain and Abel, Panas’ clever reverse of the “mark” seems to imply that her subjects and viewers alike suffer Abel’s curse of brotherhood, fraternity, and family. It’s a rich theme for rich photographs, set in an Eden-like location of lush and overgrown greenery. Ninety-five pages long, containing fifty perfectly paced photographs, The Mark of Abel presents us with hundreds of strangers, all of whom feel bizarrely familiar. Panas’ family portraits are tender rather than sentimental, serious though not cynical, and dysfunctional without being cliché.

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Booze Muse: Kingsley Amis, the Laureate of Hangovers

Here is a fun literary experiment: substitute the words ill or illness in Virginia Woolf’s essay “On Being Ill” (1930) with the words hung-over and hangover . It works, right? “Hangover is the great confessional”; “In a hangover words seem to possess a mystic quality”; “Incomprehensibility has an enormous power over us in a hangover.” And so on. But the best bit is this: “To hinder the description of hangover in literature, there is the poverty of the language. English, which can express the thoughts of Hamlet and the tragedy of Lear, has no words for the shiver and the headache.”

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Private Creativity and Queer Spirituality

It’s hard to talk about spirituality in the US today without bringing up a lot of baggage — conflicts between religions about who has it right or who is the most righteous, not to mention all the stereotypes that accompany each religion and its practitioners. And it’s certainly not easy to talk about religion and contemporary visual art, as visual art is so often assumed to be above or outside or beyond religion somehow.

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Wisdom Testicles and the Messy Process of Collaboration

At first glance, the exterior of Wisdom Testicles, a collection of collaborative works on paper by three artistic schoolmates, looks to be a relatively unassuming artist book. Setting aside its confusing title for a moment, it has the well-crafted and unique appearance of a handmade book. Smallish in size and easy to page through, Coptic bound with an open spine, it has raw, unfinished covers made of gray speckled bookboard. The cover of the book, however, on which a anatomical looking drawing of male genitalia has been printed, is provocative enough to immediately dispel any preconceived notions about the book’s modest appearance. The non sequitur nature of the title and cover succeeds in catching your attention, raising a certain amount of curiosity about what lies between the covers.

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Richard Baker, Physiognomist of Our Past and Future

Richard Baker is best known for his still-life paintings of tabletops, often tilted at impossible angles and covered with out-of-print art books and other bric-a-brac, such as ceramic pots, to-go food containers, candy bars, and tulips. Ranging from the lowbrow Learn to Draw by Jon Gnagy (Mr. “Learn-To-Draw”) to the hefty catalogue of the exhibition Paris-New York (1977) — the year the artist graduated from high school — Baker’s non-hierarchical representations form an inventory of the books that have, at different times, been central to his ongoing education, stretching from when he was a teenager until the present.