The Province of the Author as Recorder

Simon Bell

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    When the UK Health Service rationalised its Warwickshire provision in 2006, two hospitals were decommissioned. This author was appointed, as Writer-in-Residence, to produce a book documenting the process. This is an ongoing project containing reports, articles, and interview transcripts, with new material being woven around existing material and spaces, and is entirely handwritten by the author. Many texts have unforced errors, and transcripts punctuation schemes reflecting pauses, hesitations, breaks and restarts. But readers can only guess timing (and other nuances of gestured meaning) from context. This is unreliable practice, because careful – yet insensitive – readers may feel that testimonies are undermined by these impositions of visual and syntactical order. This paper champions the value of this book, despite the putative instability of some of its texts. Its status as a work in progress, and its mixture of both random and controlled juxtapositions, should draw in and gratify active readers. There is also original prose and poetry in the book emerging as a result of the process, yet the subversion of the familiar forms of both the book and of documentation itself could mean that fiction is seen as more reliable than fact, prompting us to question our prejudices and expectations.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)53-60
    JournalThe International Journal of the Book
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 2008

    Bibliographical note

    This paper was originally given as a presentation at the 6th International Conference on the Book, Washington D.C., 2008. Author's note: The paper delivered to discuss the author's commission as Writer-in-Residence for the Coventry and Warwickshire Decommissioning Project followed on from a presentation at the above conference, which was very catholic, with delegates from all over the world. The project and the paper discussed an exploration of genre, and the power of writing in expressive, visual form. The end product of the Writer-in-Residence work was a one-off, handwritten book. Discussions have taken place about digitising the book into a piece of public art to be installed at the new University Hospital in Coventry, but at present this has not yet happened.

    Rigour: -
    The paper was fully referenced and refereed, and drew on a variety of sources including the handmade, linear texts, the hegemony of the object, John Murray's sly crossings-out in his letters to Byron, Tennyson's problems with punctuation, artists' books, Sylvester's interviews with Francis Bacon, and film studies. The presentation also included images of the war in Iraq: the point being that a catholic audience, and a controversial point, needed catholic, relevant and persuasive evidence.
    Originality: -
    The paper prompted quite diverse reactions, happily. One reviewer claimed it "violates communication basics", which of course it was intended to do. The paper argued that to make documentary work potent, one had to resort to unfamiliar genres in order to shake readers out of complacent and predictable reactions. Another reviewer felt the paper "extends conceptions of books and their creation ... in a particularly exciting project". The paper and the project were this author's first consideration of reader-response theory in a formalised visual arts context, and the author was subsequently asked to referee other papers and made Associate Editor of the International Journal of the Book for a year.
    The publisher of this article is Common Ground publishing. Readers must contact Common Ground for permission to reproduce


    • Documentation/Accuracy
    • Familiarity/Tradition
    • Book Form
    • Stolid Fiction
    • Alluring Fact


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