Johanna Drucker's Artist Books
An online repository of facsimiles, metadata, and commentary

Against Fiction


Project Statement

Against Fiction was six years in the writing. The notes and texts for the book accumulated over a period that spanned time in Greece and Amsterdam and well into the years in which I returned to the Bay Area, worked, and began graduate studies. The book embodied the conflicts I had with the traditions of fiction in which I had been steeped as a young writer and the terms of literary production I was being exposed to in the Bay Area literary scene, as well as in the art contexts I had encountered in Europe and on my return. The "Against" of the title was intended to signal dependence on and rejection of that tradition. The massive set of notes and fragments got organized by "affinity" during an Xmas holiday visit to my sister's house. In my mind's eye, I still see the pile of mss. fragments, the scotch tape, and the sorted stacks on the bed in her guest room. That has to have been the winter of 1981-82, I think, since 1980-81 I stayed in Oakland, too poor to travel. But maybe this doesn't make sense. My mother would have still been alive, and that means that my sister wasn't married yet. So obviously I'm misremembering something. Perhaps it was the winter of 1983 that I put the mss. together. But that also doesn't make sense because I recall that the first version of the printed edition was being printed the night of my mother's accident. I was working at the Vandercook in the warehouse and kept breaking off to call my folks, because it was my mother's birthday. I never reached them and thought they were out to dinner. Next morning my father called to tell me she'd been in an accident. I don't think the original larger format would have worked in any case, but I never had the heart to go back to the project in that form after that event. The other crucial recollection that helps date the production and conceptual design of the project is the response of Dalia Judovitz to the first version in manuscript. She and her then partner Jason took a look at the mss. It had taken months to type. I was using an IBM Model B, a good machine, but just an electric typewriter (office model, an upright, solid machine). Remember, this is in the early 1980s, and no one had computers yet. When I finished typing, I had the project copied at Kinko's, which seemed hideously expensive to me. The mss. was close to 300 pages, and even at 5 cents a page, must have cost me about $20 a copy. Since I lived on about $400 a month, including my $160/month rent, plus utilities, that was a sizable chunk of my monthly income. The blue paper covers were pale and the black velo binding seemed solid, functional. The heft of the manuscript gave me a sense of having really done something. But they flipped through it, gave it back, and said it needed to be printed letterpress. I was aghast. They had no idea what that meant. Hard to think one was at the end and find oneself instead at the beginning of another huge phase of a project. Since I knew them well enough to depend on their response, it has to have been 1982 or so. The book was finished printing in 1984, before I went to Paris for a year, so that is the terminus point. Much editing, of course, went on in the stick. But that is for a later section of production narrative.

Production Narrative

Transforming this book from a typescript to a letterpress book only happened after I had an epiphany for the design. That came from exposure to the work of Peter Eisenman, in particular, his House X project. I had been grappling with a way to structure the design so that it would have an internal logic. The first pages I printed, in the initial trial version, followed a tabloid format, but they seemed too parodic. I wanted a stricter formal integrity to the work, so when I read House X and saw that a procedure with a degree of repetition and variation, and some random variable in it, could be used as a method for design, I suddenly saw a way to deal with the structure and design of this book. I decided to use certain mathematical progressions: four pages (one signature) of pages with one paragrah, eight pages (two sheets) with two paragraphs, twelve pages (three sheets) with three paragraphs, and sixteen pages (four sheets) with four paragraphs. That made a total of ten sheets for the body of the text, plus title, half-title, colophon etc. Within that regular progression, each section had its own variants. The first section began with a single paragraph that was set in type that began with the largest point size and went to the smallest. The second page had large type on the top and bottom of the paragraph and the smallest type was in the middle, the third reversed this, and the fourth went from smallest to largest. Every sequence had a regular set of changes and alterations to it, but one element of random change or variation was allowed per page as well. I always compose in the stick, which is to say, much editing and selection occured as I went. The original text manuscript was longer, and I think (though I'd have to compare them), more prosaic. I wanted a more condensed and tighter text. Also, I was learning so much at Berkeley that the ideas I was absorbing from critical theory, in particular, issues about language and psychoanalysis in relation to feminism, that these kept coming into the text as I worked. The content of the book shifted somewhat in focus, towards a sense of the polymorphous voice as a feminist mode. The images were produced using a ruler as guide to the lino cutter. My goal was a mechanistic look, one that didn't seem at all in the expressionist or conventional traditions of woodblock. Also, it was a fast way to work, though it took a bit of just sheer daring to cut fast with only a small guiding sketch of the lines. It was also cheap. The book took about 400 hours, as I recall, to produce. Forty pages, each with about a 5 hour setting time, 2 hours for printing, 2 for breaking down, and then the lino cuts, plus collating, sewing, etc.

Critical Analysis

Design Features

typographic: The type is Stymie, all the way through. The shift from majuscule to lower case and then to descending or ascending order of point size were all determined simply by limited resources. When I ran out of the type in one size or register, I began to substitute until it became impossible to say what I wanted (even within the composing in the stick compromise approach to the text). At that point, I would shift to the next size.

imagery: I used newspaper and snapshot images as the basis of the linocuts.

graphical: The force of the layout is quite strong in this book, partly because the Stymie type and the massive paragraphs are so imposing.But it was also meant to encourage browsing. Knowing how dense and difficult the texts were, I wanted to provide various ways of engaging with it. A reader was supposed to feel they could browse, reading only headlines, snippets, chunks, as in the reading of a newspaper, rather than feel they had to follow the text in a linear fashion.

development: The mathematical progression organizing the layout is evident, and was meant to create a sense of the fragmenting discourse, increasingly unreconcilable into any unified authority.

textual: The text is meant as a commentary on fictional forms, and as an indulgence in fragments of production. The work shifts register from critical to metaphoric language. Each paragraph, often each line, references different discourse fields.

Critical Discussion

The book is meant as an exercise in critical design. The use of layout borrowed from the popular press to create a work that is theoretically and textually dense was a deliberate move. The themes of women and narrative, news and mediation, language and material, and the ongoing human comedy are all present here.



Johanna Drucker

type: initiating


Publication Information

publisher: Druckwerk

production: 1983-06-00:1983-10-00
publication: 1983-00-00

publication history: A single edition was issued, but the first three pages of an initial attempt at the book, in slightly larger format, was printed in a full run. The final edition had an author's binding on all the copies that were distributed originally. A handful of copies were bound by a professional in New York City in the early 1990s.

Aesthetic Profile

language poetry (local)

artists' books (LCSH)

themes: The impossibility of continuing the forms of fiction in a contemporary world, news, and women and language.

content form:
experimental text (local)
narrative (local)

publication tradition:
artists' book (local)
broadside (local)

inspiration: The tabloids and Peter Eisenman's House X, an odd combination perhaps.

related works: News (unfinished fragment, 2005) and Narratology (1994) are probably the two closest.

community: other Certainly the poets were my major community during the time I lived in the Bay Area, though by the early 1980s, the U.C. Berkeley folks were important to me as well. Bertrand Augst was an enormous influence on me in that period, and so were people in the Architecture Department. Book arts and printing folks remained important as well, but as the theoretical and critical issues in this project became increasingly informed by the academic life I was leading, I started to imagine the audience for the work would be located in a critical, rather than creative, community.

Related Documents

manuscript type: texts

location: artist's archive

note: Many.

manuscript type: mockups

location: artist's archive

General Comments

title note: The subtitle--Organized Affinities--was adapted from Goethe's Elective Affinities. The difference should be obvious.


Publication Information

edition type: editioned

publisher: Druckwerk

production: 1983-06-00:1983-10-00
publication: 1983-00-00

edition size: 97


horizontal: 13.25 inches closed

vertical: 16.5 inches closed

depth: .4 inches closed

Production Information

production means:
letterpress (local)
linoleum (local)

binding: hand sewn (local)

bookBlock: paper Warren's Oldstyle for 100 of the attempted copies, newsprint for 25 of the attempted copies.
endsheets: paper Warren's Oldstyle for 100 of the attempted copies, newsprint for 25 of the attempted copies.

ink (local)


format: codex (AAT)

cover: Thick black paper over board forms the cover. the front cover has a piece of Warren's Oldstyle pasted on the front with the title printed on it.

color: no


pagination: unpaginated 48 pages

numbered?: numbered

signed?: signed


Of one hundred and twenty-five attempted, one hundred were on Warren's Oldstyle, twenty-five were on newsprint. Handset Stymie. Printed on a Vandercook Proof press. In Oakland, California. From June to October. By Johanna Drucker.

Related Documents

manuscript type: texts

location: artist's archive

note: Many.

manuscript type: mockups

location: artist's archive

General Comments

An interesting aside: At the time I was printing this book, Zuzana Licko and Rudy VanderLans were beginning the various undertakings that became Emigre. Rudy invited me to contribute a page from Against Fiction for inclusion in the very first issue of the magazine of that name. So odd, seeing it there in all it's old-fashioned letterpress integrity within the newly hatched digital universe of graphic design.