Distributed and Conditional Documents: Conceptualizing Bibliographical Alterities

  • Johanna Drucker University of California, Los Angeles


To conceptualize a future history of the book we have to recognize that our understanding of the bibliographical object of the past is challenged by the ontologically unbound, distributed, digital, and networked conditions of the present. As we draw on rich intellectual traditions, we must keep in view the need to let go of the object-centered approach that is at the heart of book history. My argument begins, therefore, with a few assertions. First, that we have much to learn from the scholarship on Old and New World contact that touches on bibliography, document studies, and book history for formulating a non-object centered conception of what a book is. Second, that the insights from these studies can be usefully combined with a theory of the “conditional” document to develop the model of the kinds of distributed artifacts we encounter on a daily basis in the networked conditions of current practices. Finally, I would suggest that this model provides a different conception of artifacts (books, documents, works of textual or graphic art), one in which reception is production and therefore all materiality is subject to performative engagement within varied, and specific, conditions of encounter.


DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.14195/2182-8830_2-1_1

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Author Biography

Johanna Drucker, University of California, Los Angeles

Johanna Drucker is the inaugural Martin and Bernard Breslauer Professor of Bibliographical Studies in the Department of Information Studies at UCLA. She has lectured and published widely on matters related to the history of print, visual poetry, artists’ books, graphic design, digital aesthetics, and contemporary art. In addition to her scholarly work, she is known for her artist’s books, many of which involve innovative typography. Her most recent publications include Sweet Dreams: Contemporary Art and Complicity (University of Chicago Press, 2005), Graphic Design History: A Critical Guide, with Emily McVarish (Pearson/Prentice-Hall, 2008), SpecLab: Digital Aesthetics and Speculative Computing (University of Chicago Press, 2009), What Is?: Nine Epistemological Essays (Cuneiform Press, 2013), and Graphesis: The Visual Production of Knowledge in a Digital Era (Harvard University Press, 2014).


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How to Cite
DRUCKER, Johanna. Distributed and Conditional Documents: Conceptualizing Bibliographical Alterities. MATLIT: Materialities of Literature, [S.l.], v. 2, n. 1, p. 11-29, nov. 2014. ISSN 2182-8830. Available at: <https://impactum-journals.uc.pt/matlit/article/view/1891>. Date accessed: 24 may 2019. doi: https://doi.org/10.14195/2182-8830.
Secção Temática | Thematic Section


Conditional Document; Bibliographic Alterity; Book History