Pages arguing with one another

Updated: May 4, 2019

Heather Weston's Grey Matter: Arguing with Descartes is a strange book structure – the cardboard cover zig-zags to form an M shape, effectively creating three mini-books in one. Starting from the front we have a volume entitled ‘body’ on black paper. Starting from the back we have ‘mind’ on white paper. And in the middle there is a section of grey pages - a grey area mediating between mind and body. The text, from Descartes, is printed in a single line that snakes off the edge of the page and around the whole book. It can be read as a continuous circuit, a never ending book. James Joyce apparently envisaged Finnegan’s Wake as a kind of rolodex structure, a novel that didn’t end but arrived back at the beginning and started all over again. Here, though, it’s Descartes arguing with himself, going round in circles about which is more important, the mind or the body. ‘I think therefore I am’, but equally; ‘my body will not be silenced so readily, so subversively, and when it speaks, it speaks of a language it once taught me, of the logic of my senses’.

The book enacts this circular argument, so it’s not so much an argument with Descartes as pages arguing with each other. This is a theme in her other work, too. In Flip Book, the recto features photographs of speaking mouth. Flipping through them, they are animated into words that we see but can’t hear (I can't lip read what is said, either). On the verso, there’s text, but you read it by flipping, not turning the pages. You’d expect text to work differently to image, but this too is a visual trick, set in motion when you flick through the book at speed, sending the line of type scrolling across the page. The whole thing is an exercise is short circuiting the senses, confusing the relationship between seeing, hearing and reading. Are we seeing what the mouth is saying? And what kind of reading is this? It involves the eyes, but by fooling them into seeing individual pages as continuous motion.

This too involves the reading body, since we need to dextrously flick through the pages at speed. And again the pages are staging a debate, a disagreement between recto and verso. In Weston's Bound they fall out completely and need to be reconciled by the reader. Cut down the middle and bound into different books, the page needs to be brought together and its lines of text matched up in order to be read. This too requires bodily actions and manipulations of the page that are different from the norm.