Beauty and the Book: Fine Editions and Cultural Distinction in America

Beauty and the Book: Fine Editions and Cultural Distinction in America for the history-of-the-book methods she employs. As Benton explains, fine editions frequently became monuments to the printing arts that disregarded, obscured, or evacuated their contents; they were extravagant productions that required lavish expenditures on materials in an escalating search for distinction. Value was thought to inhere in features such as custom type, elaborate illustration, handmade paper, and printers’ watermark signatures, and not in the texts themselves, which were, after all, familiar enough to be ignored. As Bob Grabhorn remarked of the celebrated Grabhorn Press edition of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass: ‘‘[O]f course you’re not going to read [it]’’ (114). As an interdisciplinary field devoted to analyzing the mediation of culture by historically specific practices of textual production and reception, book history is not well equipped to handle books that are indifferent to their own content; an analysis of the materiality of fine editions can describe but not explain them. While Benton deftly integrates bibliographical analysis with a social and cultural history of fine printing, she repeatedly runs up against the limitations of her subject. Books that have slight regard for their contents have to be about something else; Benton needs to reach beyond the self-enclosed world of fine http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png American Literature Duke University Press

Beauty and the Book: Fine Editions and Cultural Distinction in America

American Literature, Volume 75 (4) – Dec 1, 2003

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Publisher
Duke University Press
Copyright
Copyright 2003 by Duke University Press
ISSN
0002-9831
eISSN
1527-2117
DOI
10.1215/00029831-75-4-875
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

for the history-of-the-book methods she employs. As Benton explains, fine editions frequently became monuments to the printing arts that disregarded, obscured, or evacuated their contents; they were extravagant productions that required lavish expenditures on materials in an escalating search for distinction. Value was thought to inhere in features such as custom type, elaborate illustration, handmade paper, and printers’ watermark signatures, and not in the texts themselves, which were, after all, familiar enough to be ignored. As Bob Grabhorn remarked of the celebrated Grabhorn Press edition of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass: ‘‘[O]f course you’re not going to read [it]’’ (114). As an interdisciplinary field devoted to analyzing the mediation of culture by historically specific practices of textual production and reception, book history is not well equipped to handle books that are indifferent to their own content; an analysis of the materiality of fine editions can describe but not explain them. While Benton deftly integrates bibliographical analysis with a social and cultural history of fine printing, she repeatedly runs up against the limitations of her subject. Books that have slight regard for their contents have to be about something else; Benton needs to reach beyond the self-enclosed world of fine

Journal

American LiteratureDuke University Press

Published: Dec 1, 2003

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