The physical vs. the abstract (8/8)

What we read for this week, specifically Dr. Drouin's Surrogate and Voss and Werner's Toward a Poetics of the Archive, has me thinking about special editions of books, or more specifically, the Limited Editions Club that ran its course from 1929 to 1979. This book club printed special editions of canonical works and commissioned famous illustrators and painters (Picasso was commissioned for one) to create art for their respective books. Their most famous production was likely Ulysses, for which Matisse was hired to illustrate. Of the 1,500 copies produced, Matisse and Joyce signed 250 of them. The copies remaining on the internet are selling for upwards of $4000, and I find it insane that someone might want to buy an NFT, a digital and non-palpable thing, for more than triple the price of a rare find that will only increase in price... Or will it? Are there no wealthy Joycians itching to get their hands on a copy? "Every act of copying creates an effigy: a likeness, portrait, or image that lacks the character of the original yet stands in for our pursuit of it," says Drouin, and I wonder how this might relate to things like limited editions of texts, because although these objects lack the historicity of the original, do they not embody an altogether different kind of historicity? 

Further, images of these rare editions are sparse. We are not allowed to see what lies within--we have not paid the very high price, which makes me think that these items, opposite to digital surrogates, do not "become levelers of class inequalities among researchers," or "allow access for those who cannot afford to travel to the archives that house rare artifacts" (279). These rare editions are special cases of art, because we know that they exist out there, and we know that it's probably much harder to see one of these than it is to see the Mona Lisa (unless you don't want to wait in a ridiculous line). This, however, begs the question of desirability. Has the Mona Lisa lost some of this because of the crowds waiting to take selfies with her? Have our interests drifted away from holding, preserving, and investing in rare things and drifted toward more profitable, digital, and immediate fancies? Why buy an old dusty book when you can be the owner of digital photo of Spongebob or a psychedelic monkey?

Please don't roast me for my limited NFT knowledge... I just haven't been able to get the concept out of my mind since we started discussing digitization and archives, and I wanted to find a way to bring it up in the discourse! I also wondered if anyone else had been thinking about these concepts in relation to the physicality of art and books versus what is currently highly sought after. All this to say, though, is that I don't think we'll ever not value the physical things. We've just found another medium, I guess. 


I really like how you mention an affinity for physical objects. This reminds me of our last class conversation about the changing technologies, and what trends we will see in the future based on what we see today. I agree that even though it is easier to access digitized items: not having to drive out of the way distances to procure the item in question, not having to tailor your schedule to meet (what are often limited hours) of archives, and usually, not having to pay for said items or item. That being said, there is still something special about being able to hold a physical object in your hand, touch it, feel it, run your hands over it, smell it, take it in, to feel its essence over you. These are characteristics that cannot be felt over a screen. It is for this reason that despite our ever-changing technological advances that focus more on the digital over the physical, physical objects will always be treasured for their rare authenticity in a world of ever-increasing digitization. I felt this experience despite the difficulties I had tailoring my crazy schedule around McFarlin's Special Collections hours. There was something calming about holding a periodical in my hands, being able to touch the pages, and not having to scroll endlessly through a screen. I am thankful though for the MJP because the digitizing of these periodicals helped us to have access that was easily accessible. Going forward, it will be important to have a hybrid collection of physical objects and digitized object to cater to all tastes and preferences.