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Liberature is literature in which the material form is considered an important part of the whole and essential to understanding the work. The term was coined by Polish writer Zenon Fajfer in 1999. Works that illustrate the concept can be dated back to the Baroque period.
Description of liberature
Liberature refers to a new kind of literature, a trans-genre, in which the text and the material form of a book constitute an inseparable whole. The term itself is derived from the word ‘literature’, but draws from the Latin liber, meaning "a book" and "the free one", as well as libra meaning "measurement" or "writing as a measurement of words." In a work of liberature, text does not serve as the sole source of meaning; the shape and the construction of the book, its format, the number of pages, its typographical layout, the size and type of the font applied, pictures and photographs integrated with the text, and type of paper or other material used in the process of creation of the book are all taken into consideration. The reader confronts a work of liberature as a total package, which often assumes a non-traditional shape, the quality of which, in practice, sometime involves a radical separation from the traditional design of the book. Its textual message dictates the physical shape that the work finally assumes. All of this lends a level of intent and control to the creator of liberature that surpasses that of other genres.
The creation of liberature as a concept
In 1999, Zenon Fajfer postulated the genre of liberature to describe the yet-undefinable work Oka-leczenie that he and Katarzyna Bazarnik had been working on. In a translated explanation of the concept, Fajfer describes liberature as “a type or genre of literature in which the text is integrated with the physical space of the book into a meaningful whole and in which all elements (from the graphic ones to the kinds of paper (or other material) and the physical shape of the book) may contribute to its meaning.” Fajfer specifically cites the necessity of creating the genre because he too often sees non-traditional literary works judged only as works of art, but not as literature. After conception, the idea was developed by Katarzyna Bazarnik who, basing her reflections on the analysis of the works by James Joyce, demonstrated that the similarity of the text and the form creates iconicity|iconicity. By exploring and dynamically developing the study of iconicity, a common feature of liberature, Bazarnik contributed to the consideration of liberature in the literary community at large.
Early works of liberature
Although the term had not yet been coined, the beginnings of liberature can be dated back to the Baroque period where writers began experimenting with literary forms. The unusual structure of the works, which may be considered unique even according to contemporary standards, forces the readers to focus their attention, to choose the beginning and the end of the text, and – most importantly – form another level of signification. It is an invitation to play, act, and interact with the text; this enables the text to transcend the boundaries of a given work. Its form “does not only consider a literary text a symbolic expression of a person’s subjectivity but also considered a text as determined by the level of programming and processing of signs.”
In the 17th and 18th centuries, evidence of the development toward liberature included the employment of word‐games (such as rebuses, palindromes, and anagrams), all of which date back to antiquity. There were also text‐machines, texts that after being programmed were able to generate new texts. The similarity of various literary works from this period was a result of fashion, but also of using the same Latin books on poetry and rhetoric in which creating elaborate poetry, and later, prose, was one of the practice exercises.
The works considered to give birth to liberature are more ancient than the term itself. Works that possessed the characteristics of liberature were already penned by such writers as Laurence Sterne, William Blake, Stéphane Mallarmé, Stanisław Wyspiański, Blaise Cendrars, James Joyce, Raymond Queneau or B. S. Johnson. In the case of American postmodernist writers, Raymond Federman, Robert Gass and Ronald Sukenick come to the fore of what can be called liberature.
Features of liberature
The demands posed by liberature shape a new kind of reader. In traditional texts, the reader empirically processes the text of a work in order to attain a desired level of understanding; one follows the steps of a model reader, whose purpose is to bring oneself closer to one’s virtual model. Certain works diverge from this concept of linear, textual reading such as those by Umberto Eco or Roland Barthes. Such works introduce uncertainty into these structured expectations and programs of behavior. Neither the works of Eco nor Barthes constitute liberature, but they exemplify a difference in the quality of the programming of the reader’s experience.
The printed works of liberature, although diverse in the application, share the following variables of the traversal function:
|User function:||Interpretative and explorative|
Only in several instances the work may breach the above-mentioned scheme of characteristic variables of liberature. In all other cases, readers are responsible for configuring their reading of the text. Texts of liberature that generate multiple statements are not limited to literary works, and definitely not to electronic texts – the category embraces computer games and other forms of both ergodic and non‐ergodic literature. The former requires a non‐trivial effort to traverse the text. In a classical, non-ergodic literary work, such as The Odyssey, the reader is required only to turn the pages and to interpret the text. In permutative works – those in which the order of text is inconsequential - instead of static function defining the dynamics, something else occurs. An intratextonic dynamic, one that guides the reader throughout the text, occurs. The text is also not determinate, meaning that it lacks a specificity which would hinder interpretation and different readings. The ergodic character of the work is usually determined by the exploratory function of the reader. The parallel character of the works is written into the very core of liberature; the order in which the reader perceives the text governs the way the work is rendered. The interactive capacity of the work becomes, if not an aesthetic category, a way of the reader’s behavior that is written into the text. The work of liberature disrupts the structure of expectations based on a syntagmatic order as well as the strategies characteristic of a linear text. The works of liberature refer to the experience of simultaneousness. Furthermore, liberature as a hybrid genre incorporating the features of numerous media at the same time, including the arts, assumes a quality of simultaneousness as a dominating one.
Development of liberature in the Anglo-Saxon countries
The contemporary Western liberature constitutes the core of the development of liberature. In 2010 Jonathan Safran Foer published his new novel called Tree of Codes. Foer’s novels have always been rather unusual: Everything is Illuminated has been described as “not only hail[ing] the advent of a post-postmodern literary age that is marked by the use of postmodernist textuality as a device but also establish[ing] the return of the subject and the performance of meaningful (inter)subjectivities as key concerns of the current historical moment.” Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, on the other hand, is an example of visual writing, utilizing typesetting, images, spaces and even blank pages to give the book a visual dimension beyond the prose narrative. Tree of Codes is an example of yet another type of hybrid, postmodern novels; it clearly belongs to the contemporary liberature movement.
Foer has taken his favorite book, The Street of Crocodiles by a Polish-Jewish writer Bruno Schulz, and used it as a canvas, cutting into and out of the pages, to arrive at an original new story. In one interview the author emphasises that, although the originality of the story brought to life in such an innovative way is a very compelling feature, it was the form of the book that captivated him the most: “[…] I was more interested in subtracting than adding, and also in creating a book with a three-dimensional life. On the brink of the end of paper, I was attracted to the idea of a book that can’t forget it has a body.”
The critical reaction to Foer’s new book remains to be positive. In his Guardian review Michel Faber writes that: “Tree of Codes is a godsend to academics everywhere. What postgraduate who salivates at the sight of words such as ‘metatextuality’, ‘intertextuality’ and ‘hypertextuality’ could fail to feel a swelling in the PhD gland? Form and content are in inti-mate dialogue here. This objet d'art, composed substantially of empty spaces, is a conceptual must-have. If the masses can't relate to it, intellectuals may see all the more reason to concur with Vanity Fair's judgment that it's ‘very, very cool’.”
Development of liberature in Poland
The perception of liberature in Poland undergoes a gradual alteration, the result achieved owing to the contribution of the first in the world Czytelnia Liberatury (Liberature's Read-ing Room) founded in Cracow in 2002 which has in its collection numerous works of libera-ture from various countries and literary periods. The publishing house, Korporacja Ha!art, also contributed to the increase of popularity of liberature in Poland by publishing a series of books which includes classical works as well as those penned by contemporary writers.
The first contemporary Polish work classified as liberature was a trilogy entitled Oka-leczenie penned by Zenon Fajfer in co-operation with Katarzyna Bazarnik. The work was published in Cracow, Poland in 2000 with a print run of 9 000 copies. It is the trilogy, created of books joined together with their covers. Inside those books, apart from experiments with typography, page composition and other techniques there is also a text. One discovers that in Oka‐leczenie there are not only visible texts, but also invisible ones, which may even constitute the core of the book. Fajfer coined a term for this method of hiding words in the area of printed text: an 'emanationism'. It is a kind of multi‐level acrostic (story within story). The reader not only captures the initial letters in every verse, but also the initial letters of every highlighted word until the embryo word is reached. From the subsequent layers one will gradually construct a new text. Every such effort will produce new scriptons, which soon enough will become textons for the new course of the programme. In this case it seems one can even assume that a given text constitutes a form of a cybertext machine.
Another example of liberature are the works of Radosław Nowakowski, which, being different from the works by Zenon Fajfer, require that the reader made an intellectual effort during reading the text. One of Nowakowski’s most prominent works is Ulica Sienkiewicza w Kielcach (Sienkiewicz Street in Kielce) published in 2002. The ergodic character of the book lies in the fact that the reader is required to mentally and physically deconstruct a street of ten and a half metres long which represents a really existing Sienkiewicz Street as it was in 2002. Both sides of the street are crammed with the fronts of houses and all this construction is covered by the text written in numerous languages that assume different shapes i.e. the shape may be sloppy when the text appears to be written in a hurry, or careful when the letters seem to move slowly. The cardboard display of the street constitutes a parallel of a map in which the text serves as a record of the character's movement. As the author is a polyglot, he reveals the ability to communicate freely – orally as well as in writing – in several languages. Should the reader not know one of them, he will not be capable of comprehending the whole text. In the works where Nowakowski provides the reader with three versions of the text – Polish, English and Esperanto – one could observe certain differences in the rendition of the same topic, the technique which contributes to the further differentiation of the book’s meaning.
Another of Nowakowski’s books, Nieposkładana teoria sztuki (Noncompleted Theory of Art), first published in 1994, is composed of a pile of separate pages placed in a box which, according to the author, mirrors the “theory of puzzle[...] [w]ith the exception that not all of the elements fit[...]”. Each box contains a different number of pages which is supposed to contribute to the ever-growing character of the work.
Liberature in other media
Despite the fact that the authors creating liberature frequently apply the traditional ways of publication ( chiefly paper books), they also appreciate the possibilities offered by modern technologies. The transformation of the hypertext model of the book by Nowakowski into Hala 1000 Ton, set in the old Norblin’s factory (Warsaw) (2005), resulted in the creation of an installa-tion book. The project called Libro 2N, (an anagram of the word Norblin: libro: "book" and 2N: Nowakowski and Norblin), was defined as a "journey into BLIN concept", which was enacted inside a book represented by the old workshop. The texts covered the walls, the floor as well as the old‐fashioned machines. When entering the building (which probably constituted an allegory of the concept), the reader was able to comprehend most of the possible configurations of the text, albeit some of them remained undecipherable. The transition from hypertextuality to tangible reality enabled the reader to decide how to combine segments of the text he was about to read. In order to motivate a would-be reader to explore the text, the author pulled a fishing line in several places to link some lexias. Every trace of the reader’s intellectual journey opened up a new doors of signification in this unique work. Notwithstanding the fact that Nowakowski did not have enough time to create a carefully designed structure of fishing net links, he enabled the reader to use every accessible passage between the texts and the machines. Therefore the number of texts remains becomes unstable and is de-pendent on time spent in the workshop; in Hala 1000 Ton one could spend either several mi-nutes or several days.
- Małopolski Instytut Kultury (2009-07-09). "Fajfer, Zenon, "A Brief Comment for the Foreign Reader of Liberature", October 2008". Slideshare.net. Retrieved 2012-08-18.
- Jörgen Shäfer. "Literary Machines Made in Germany. German Proto‐Cybertexts from the Baroque Era to the Present." In CyberText Yearbook. Ergodic Histories. (University of Jyväskylä, 2006), p. 5.
- Katrin Amian. Rethinking Postmodernism(s): Charles S. Peirce and the Pragmatist Nego-tiations of Thomas Pynchon, Toni Morrison, and Jonathan Safran Foer. New York: Rodopi, 2008. p. 202.
- Heller, Steven (2010-11-24). "Steven Heller, Jonathan Safran Foer's Book as Art Object". Papercuts.blogs.nytimes.com. Retrieved 2012-08-18.
- Michel Faber (18 December 2010). "Michel Faber, Tree of Codes by Jonathan Safran Foer – review". London: Guardian. Retrieved 2012-08-18.
- Zenon Fajfer, Katarzyna Bazarnik. "Arw z perspektywy liberatury." In Arw ed. Satnisław Czycz, (Kraków: Korporacja Ha!art, 2007), pp. 67‐69.
- "Radosław Nowakowski. Liberatorium". Liberatorium.com. Retrieved 2012-08-18.
- "Radosław Nowakowski, Libro 2N". Kolekcja.bookart.pl. 2009-09-21. Retrieved 2012-08-18.
- In the Russian cuisine the word 'blin' refers to a pancake fried on frying‐pan.
- Tree of Codes page at the offi-cial site of Visual Editions
- Official promotional video of Tree of Codes
- The making of Tree of Codes by Jona-than Safran Foer
- Tree of Codes by Jonathan Safran Foer: Public Reactions
- Liberatura. Wstąp do liberatury (available only in Polish version)
- Zenon Fajfer. "Liberatura. Aneks od słownika terminów literackich (available only in Polish version)
- Katarzyna Bazarnik, "Krótkie wprowadzenie do liberatury" (available only in Polish version)