Bibliographic Coding

At the Aquarium

As I was filtering through various additions of The Masses, my eyes were drawn to a poem entitled "The Aquarium" by Max Eastman. It's funny that in the midst of a page of 20 thumbnails, the layout of this particular page caught my attention. The poem is paired with another poem in two identically sized columns at the bottom of the page. The poems are framed by an art deco mural, under the title "LYRICS." The page is quite beautiful.

The themes of the poem have an interesting relationship as well. The other poem is entitled "The Poetry of the Earth." It describes a woman from, as the title suggests, the perspective of the earth (nature). On the other hand, "At the Aquarium" is a man reflecting upon nature (the fish). Those ideas complement each other nicely.

It's really interesting how the entire page can be studied as a single unit and at the same time be studied as the combination of multipe elements. I would never have thought of considering the mural's relationship with the text outside of the concept of bibliographic coding.

Music, Dismay, and the Blue Review

I explored the Blue Review, the short-lived successor to Rhythm. Each of its three issues followed a standard layout: contents, an imprint, an illustration, three or four short poems, several articles or essays, a visual art section in the middle, more essays, and, finally, advertisements on the back cover. The Blue Review seemed to appeal to a bibliophile audience and many of its ads relate to monographs, though one issue included a dressmaker’s ad and the same French ad was published in all three issues. This use of French, as well as appearances of other languages such as an article titled “Daibutsu” and sections regarding German and Italian books, also indicates an appeal to international audiences.

I picked an article in the middle issue - June 1913 - of the Blue Review called “A Fresh Start in Music,” which aims to balance two groups of composers: the academics and the modernists, in the article’s terms (volume 1, issue 2, page 97). The author toys with the mechanization and modernization of orchestras as well as the worth of preserving past theory and foundations for music. The page layout seems fairly simple: the pages are left-justified and one column; there is no visual art; the essay is situated toward the middle of the issue between an article called “Anger and Dismay” and another called “Epilogue: II.”  I find the juxtaposition with the “Fresh Start in Music” following the “Anger and Dismay” article, as music is often considered to be an antidote to anger and dismay, as well as a general soothing influence. The first issue of the Blue Review doesn’t have a dedicated music section, but the third and last issue concludes its articles with a survey of Beethoven, Elgar, and Debussy. This also indicates internationality on the part of the journal through its grouping of German, English, and French (respectively) musicians.

bibliographic coding in Scribner's

I looked at Scribner's Magazine, Vol. 50, No. 4, from 1911. The article I chose is entitled "A Modern St. George: The Growth of Organized Charity in the United States."

This is the first textual contribution to the magazine, so the first page appears with another Scribner’s Magazine heading. (To remind the reader what he’s looking at after so many advertisements? There are about 50 pages of ads before the content begins.) It is laid out with 2 columns of text per page. Photos are included within and around the text; the column edges are moved to allow room for the pictures. The article gives a brief history of how America has “dealt with” the poor, taking New York as an example, and then talks about what’s going on in the present and how it is or isn’t working.

The types of photos that are included are obviously meant to elicit an emotional response from the reader. One 2-page spread has pictures around the left, top, and right edges of the text, and each of them portrays “the poor” is a sad way: a picture of a sick woman in bed with a young boy next to her with the caption “Her only nurse”; a picture of a crowded beach as the only place they can bathe. Later in the article, though, there is a picture of10 smiling boys poking their heads out a barn window, with the caption “On the farm. Boys sent by the Children’s Aid Society.” The Children’s Aid Society is one of the current (at the time) organizations the article talks about.

The drawing on the left side of the spread, where the first page of the article is on the right, is called “October Hunting,” of two men in a canoe with guns, and there are what look like moose horns sticking out of the boat, so they must be finished with the hunt. They are waving good-bye to some people still onshore. I’m not sure this has any relevance, besides the fact that the men in the painting are wearing extremely casual clothes and aren’t very bundled up, considering the wintry color tones and the fire onshore, so they might be closer to the poor end of the spectrum, but at the same time if they have time for the leisure of hunting, I’m not exactly sure what to make of it being juxtaposed with this article.

Ads and the Bibliographic Coding of Public Space: NYC's Herald Square, 1908; San Francisco's Market St., 1905-06

I just came across this amazingly high-definition photograph of New York's Herald Square in 1908 (at 6th Ave and 34th St). Herald Square is now known primarily as the home of Macy's department store, but in this picture you can see the old Herald Tribune building and, up Broadway (the diagonal street), the New York Times building and Times Square.

One of the more interesting aspects is the amount of advertising in the public space. Ads appear on the second and third floors of buildings, in windows, on carts. They give a sense of how people lived, i.e. shaving with strop razors and drinking whiskey and brandy. Quick research on some of the liquor brands shows them to be very high end products today. I wonder if they were considered so back then.

Click on image to view original size (6000px × 4046px)

Original page:

There is apparently a very different code of conduct than we adhere to today, with everyone wearing a hat and dressed in several layers of formal clothing. This button-down aspect of modernity seems to be one element that the modernists fought against.

The photo reminds me of a video I've seen, taken from a 1905 or 1906 movie camera on a San Francisco streetcar going up Market St. There are several versions of it, but this one seems to be well restored:

There is also this one, which compares the same areas both before and after the earthquake and great fire of 1906:

I'm struck by the sheer chaos of public streets: much less regulated than ours today. Gives a sense that the machinery of trams, automobiles, and bicycles were still new at the time and not fully assimilated into transportation culture. It's this sort of frenetic machinery of modernity that I think many modernists were responding to, whether for or against.

BLAST Number 1: Bibliographic Coding

BLAST's Issue Number 1is filled with a cacophony of bold images, CAPS LOCK, and a LARGE VARIETY of interesting typography.  This in and of itself sets it apart from most other magazines just in the visual realm, let alone what is actually being said.  The first portion of the text contains a number of appropriately-titled "Manifesto", which includes a number of broad, sweeping, angry texts, making contradictory proclamations about just about everything.  These manifestos both blast and bless, meaning that they tear dear down the perceived negative qualities of certain things (such as England, France, and humor), whereas the bless section sancitifies the positive qualities of these elements.  However, the effectiveness of these proclamations would be lost entirely if one were to change the page layout, the font, or to remove the spaces on the page.  In the case of BLAST, bibliographic coding is everything.

I chose to look at two particular manifestos to emphasize this point: "BLAST HUMOR" (17) and "BLESS ENGLISH HUMOR" (26). 


In the former, the difference in text size draws one's eye to certain phrases to emphasize their importance.  One may perhaps conclude that since the larger text draws one's eye to it more quickly upon first glance that it is the most important; however, without reading the smaller print, the meaning of the manifesto is lost.  This being the case, instead of the large text having meaning on its own, it relies on the small print to give these large, screaming words meaning.  This may have been Lewis' intention, especially given his distaste for the uneducated; whether or not this is true, one cannot disagree that the bibliographic coding is key in understanding these texts.  The layout of the "BLAST HUMOR" page is very rigid, keeping large squares of text blank while using a solid line on one side of the verse.  This gives the feeling that the author is trying to reign this manifesto in, perhaps in an attempt to make sense out of chaotic feelings.  


"BLESS ENGLISH HUMOR," however, is slightly less phrenetic; instead, the text flows down the page in a much less rigid, aggressive fashion.  There is still emphasis through large text of certain words or phrases (such as BLESS SWIFT and SHAKESPEARE), but it is also easier to obtain meaning through just the large text alone without reading every word.  This, along with there being far less gaps in "BLESS ENGLISH HUMOR,", gives the page a far more unified quality. 

If one were to change the font (the sans serif makes the text stand out more on the page), the size (changing the emphasis on each word), or the layout (taking away large spaces meant to add meaning), the essence of these manifestos would completely change.  I believe that in seeing the original, another layer of meaning will be added to BLAST, so that the impact of the magazine in its entirety is that much more forceful. 

"The Vers Libre Contest"

The April 1917 issue of The Little Review presents the results of the "Vers Libre Contest."  We are told the names of the judges for the poetry contest and their unanimous choice for the best submissions.  If this entire presentation is to be believed, the quality of the submissions that year was exceptionally low.  The editor remarks, "I imagine there has never been one [contest] in the history of poetry which could boast so many really bad poems" (11).  The winning poems are themselves presented in a manner that suggests the editor's low estimation of their relative value, with the first poem "Sea Poppies" by H.D. appearing on the lower half of page 11 and Maxwell Bodenheim's "Images of Friendship" printed on the next page just above a short editorial interjection at the middle mentioning the dollar amount of their prize.  The remaining pages of The Little Review are reserved for the poems that were either ignored by the judges entirely or mentioned only in passing, with the worst reserved for last.  Each one is attended by similar editorial interjections deriding certain aspects of the poem, (similar themes, "trite" expressions).  The editor even mocks the judges' perception of value in a couple submissions and the materiality of the textual presentation of poetry itself with its traditionally clean space is broken up by these justified and indented interjections, often forcing the remaining stanza of a following poem onto the next page.

Bibliographic coding in BLAST


George Bornstein, author of Material Modernism: The Politics of the Page, describes bibliographic coding as, “Bibliographic code can include features of page layout, book design, ink and paper, and typeface as well as broader issues which D.E. McKenzie II “The sociology of texts,” like publisher; print run, price, or audience” (7). In the first issue of BLAST, No. 1 (1914-06-02) there is a story by Ford Maddox Heuffer entitled The Saddest Story, (images 109-131) that demonstrates bibliographic coding in multiple ways. The first example is the added epigraph at the beginning of the story in Italian. The story is composed in English yet there is an Italian epigraph reading “Beati Immaculati” which when translated means “Immaculately blessed”. This phrase adds an aesthetic component to the work as well as to the page layout.
Another interesting component of the story’s layout is that Heuffer’s story is 10 pages long, yet there are 22 pages from the beginning of his story to the end. Breaking up Heuffer’s writing includes: six blank pages and six pages which each have a drawing on them. The art ranges from pictures with the following captions: “head”, “dancers” and “religion”. The pages ranging from detailed art to blank space break up the story and alter how the story is read and perceived. The epigraph as well as the blank pages and art that interrupt the story can affect the interpretation of the work.

Bibliographic Coding and Juvenile Rebellion

In the April 1914 issue of The Little Review (just one issue into the journal's 15-year existence) editor Margaret Anderson laments the loss of another small, innovative journal, The Germ. In what appears to be a letter from the editor (even a manifesto of sorts), she goes on to describe its founders as “a league of unquiet and ambitious young spirits, bent upon making a fresh start on their own.” (p.1) Seeing only four issues, The Germ’s work was “as simple and spontaneous as children; in their criticism they were rhetorical.” (p.2) Anderson, whose own journal had been deemed “juvenile” by critics, ultimately compares The Little Review to The Germ, ending with,“Our sympathy is somehow very strongly with the spontaneity, whatever dark juvenile crimes it may be guilty of.” (p.2)


Anderson’s letter is directly followed by the first poem of the issue, aptly titled “Rebellion” by George Soule. (It’s interesting to note that George Soule may well be a pseudonym. George Soule was also a well-known, young, indentured servant aboard the Mayflower's voyage to the New World. He survived the first winter when over half the pilgrims died from disease and exposure.)


The placement of this poem is, of course, no accident. In Soule’s closing quintain the speaker exclaims, “Try out life’s worth—and burst all cages!” (p.3) It is the voice of the “juvenile” or spontaneous child identifiable in The Germ. Anderson, in only her second issue, wants there to be no confusion for her reader—the content of The Little Review will be cage-busting, rebellious, and even juvenile if need be.  Like Soule, it will outlive others like it.


The English Review in its January 1910 publication demonstrates stylistic choices that have become the literary norm in the 21st century.  The advertising is intentional and specifically geared for the literary crowd.  The prime retail space directly behind the front cover is reserved for paying advertisers of new books, pens, publishers, and novelties.  This section of the Review is numbered with Roman numerals like the introduction of a book, and the header identifies it as "The English Review Advertiser."  The English Review officially begins with its title on page 185, presumably because the previous issue ended on page 184.  So, the many issues of this publication can be torn away from the ads and bound together into a unified volume of literature without advertising or other interruption. 

Illustrations Around "A Superman"

"A Superman" is a short story by Hall Ruffy found in the Winter, 1911 issue of Rhythm. It tells of a seemingly ordinary cafe, most likely in France, considering that whatever dialogue is written in interaction with the waiting staff of the cafe is in French. Two people are seated separately at the cafe; once they were lovers, now they watch each other from afar. "A Superman" offers a tense glimpse into the furtive thoughts of these two, going about a seemingly ordinary activity, disturbed inwardly by the sight of one another. The interruption propmts him to get drunk, whereupon he reveals that she has left him for a wealthy fat man, the one whom she is with. She, despite her having left her lover for another, is unhappy. She is young and attractive, and imagines leaving at that moment in the cafe, for her old beloved. The story is interrupted by a picture. It is a copy of a painting by Auguste Chaubaud. It looks dreary and dark, dotted with globs of paint. It seems to portray a desolate street scene, under a patched umbrella, potentially seats in a cafe, with a dark silhouettes in the distance. The cafe is described as lively in the story, as though busy and bright in the daytime; moreover, the painting has no particularly distinct connection to the story, despite its location amid the pages of the narrative. The artist is different, as is even listed separately in the table of contents at the beginning of the magazine issue. Why then place the picture in between in story's content? It reminds me of a line in the text: "Just in that moment he was in the passive condition when one seems to be outside of life. All was like a picture which he looked at critically; the pale green chairs and tables; the laurel trees in white boxes looking unreal in the brilliant light with men and women dotted about." The description with its "white boxes" and "dotted" imagery is reminiscent of a similar scene, maybe and a different time of day, or a different season, one cannot be entirely sure, but it influences the imagery within one's own imagination.

The end of the story also hosts a small "Study" in the blank half of the page below the text. The picture, by J. D. Fergusson portrays an open champagne bottle, upon a cluttered table, potentially and illustration of the scenario described in the story, when the man gets drunk. Also a thought provoking piece of art.

In addition, the story itself begins with a French epigraph, although the story itself is not in French; however, there are many French articles in this particular issue of Rhythm, mostly proceeding this particular story. The influence of the French language and culture within the sequence of what goes into the issue itself is an interesting way to view what material surround this story, and why the issue was assembled in its particular fashion.