Original Research

Towards a theoretical underpinning of the book arts: Applying Bakhtin’s dialogism and heteroglossia to selected examples of the artist’s book

David Paton
Literator | Vol 33, No 1 | a353 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/lit.v33i1.353 | © 2012 David Paton | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 07 August 2012 | Published: 13 November 2012

About the author(s)

David Paton, Department of Visual Art, Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture, University of Johannesburg, South Africa


Recent research projects and conferences devoted to the book arts have responded to Johanna Drucker’s 2005 call that a more rigorous theoretical underpinning of the field of book art production needs to be established urgently. Yet these projects and conferences, resultant from the participation of artists and other practitioners in the field, not surprisingly, have biased their discussions on the book arts towards practice and away from theory. In establishing that a need still exists for an appropriate lens through which the artist’s book might be more rigorously and theoretically examined, this article explored the following publications: Stéphane Mallarmé and Marcel Broodthaers’s Un coup de dés, Buzz Spector’s reductive Marcel Broodthaers, Ulises Carrión’s For fans and scholars alike and Helen Douglas and Telfer Stokes’s Real fiction. These specific examples, and particularly their relationships and dialogues which each other, were examined through a lens provided by the Russian philosopher and literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin’s writings on dialogism and heteroglossia. These critical terms, which demonstrate the dialogic, multivocal and heteroglot voices between works in history and within themselves, as cultural utterances, were shown to be appropriate and useful frames for the analysis of particular qualities which enunciate the presence of artists’ books in the world: self-consciousness, discursive perceptivity and reflexivity. I therefore, applied Bakhtin’s notions of dialogism and heteroglossia to the task of proposing a theoretical foundation for the artist’s book, as a dynamic visual language, which is relational and engaged in a process of endless redescriptions of the world.


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