It’s nice to be in a library

IDeATe’s Physical Computing Lab is in the basement of Hunt Library. Though we’re not exactly part of the library formally, there are certain wonderful benefits to being situated in the basement beneath the books.

For one, I can hop upstairs to grab a book of interest super quickly. Recently, I shared that I thought the image on the cover of a text my students read, Beginning with Disability, ed. Lennard J. Davis, was pretty interesting:

The book, unfortunately, doesn’t credit the artist. But an enterprising student whipped out her phone and did a reverse image search, informing me that it was the artist Jindřich Štyrský, who it turns out is a Czech surrealist. (This I learned from Wikipedia.)

But to learn more, I did a library catalog search, and sure enough, waiting patiently for me on the fourth floor in amongst the other art books was New Formations: Czech Avant-Garde Art and Modern Glass from the Roy and Mary Cullen Collection, a catalog published to coincide with an exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston in 2011–12.

The book includes a translation of an essay by Štyrský called “The Inspired Illustrator,” which of course is delightfully relevant to my interest in his being the unintentional illustrator of a college textbook seventy six years after his death. From the essay:

There are two kinds of readers. The first are essentially indifferent to a book, even though they turn the pages and read diligently, even though they comment on the story according to their taste, compare the ideas in the book with their own outlook, and test the psychology by identifying with the protagonist, even though they think about the book for so long that it becomes their best friend. They are conscious readers, textbook readers, pillars of culture. They prefer a solid illustrator who faithfully reproduces the reading material. An illustrator who does not unsettle them. An illustrator who has a reliable cliché for every subject.

But that sort of illustrator would portray the lover from Les lettres portugaises as one of the Three Musketeers.¹

The opposite of the conscious readers is the person for whom poetry is a passion. The fanatic. The passionate reader equal to the poet. Someone who loves a beautiful book, who will buy it even during the worst economic crisis because he does not buy it out of a desire to be educated. This kind of reader loves only those illustrations in a book that enhance his excitement, that thrill him without paralyzing his creative approach to the reading material. Inspired illustrations.

p. 120. Translator’s footnote: Les lettres portugaises (The Letters of a Portuguese Nun) was published anonymously in Paris in 1669. The work was later attributed to Gabriel-Jose de La Vergne, comte de Guilleragues.

Apparently the firm Rogue Four Design, based in the outskirts of London, designed the cover. In any case, I’m glad that Štyrský is getting his little revenge on the literal readers of a textbook with his inspired cover illustration.






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