Anti-book. On the art and politics of radical publishing

07 Feb 2018

Written in an epoch marked by a growing sense of anxiety regarding the future of the book, Nicholas Thoburn’s Anti-Book. On the Art and Politics of Radical Publishing offers us a critical re-examination of what the book is – hence, the prefix ‘anti’ in the title of this elegantly designed and forcefully argued book. The ‘anti’ prefix, however, does not betray a discontent with books generally, but rather with (1) a specific category of books that the author associates with the capitalist mode of production, as well as with (2) an understanding of ‘print culture’ as an agent of standardization, dissemination, and fixity that had a significant influence over the historical development of modernity itself. The former position can be traced back to Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus (1993), with its famous distinction between three fundamental dimensions in our understanding of the book: any book, so goes their argument, encapsulates a modern, self-enclosed, totalising image of the world (the book as a ‘root-book’), a modernist fragmented and decentred image of the world (the book as a ‘fascicular root-book’), and a post-modernist interrogation of the very separation between the book and the world it is supposed to represent (the book as a ‘rhizome-book’). The latter position follows Adrian Johns’ The Nature of the Book (1998), which was partly construed as a rebuttal of Elizabeth L. Eisenstadt’s argument for the material form of print as a positive agent of modernisation: the technical forms of printing are not inherently fixed and stable; rather, Johns shows, fixity and stability are continuously and precariously produced through them.