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Looking through, looking into and looking at the book: the materiality of message and medium

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The relationship between material, medium and message with respect to books has been a recurring source of discussion in graphic design. Such discussion punctuates the last 100 years: with divergent thoughts on the material resources of the book ranging from considering them as inert, equivalent to a neutral substrate that carries an imprinted message, to understanding them as a set of independently meaningful material properties possessed by the physical artefact. This article reviews such different appreciations of books and the relationship between materiality and meaning-making and reassesses them using a theoretical framework derived from cognitive linguistics and relevance theory. It suggests that both dematerialized and materialized understandings inaccurately describe the ways that meaning is made from books, and advances an account based on attention, iconicity and relevance to describe the background processing that results in dematerialized and materialized understandings at the phenomenological level.

Keywords: attention; dematerialism; iconicity; materialism; relevance

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: The Arts University College at Bournemouth

Publication date: March 1, 2011

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  • Book 2.0 is a new, interdisciplinary peer-reviewed journal which aims to publish articles and reviews on developments in book creation and design, (including the latest progressions in technology and software affecting illustration, design and book production). It will also explore innovations in distribution, marketing and sales, and book consumption, and in the research, analysis and conservation of book-related professional practices. Book 2.0 aims to provide a forum for promoting and sharing the most original and progressive practice in the teaching of writing, illustration, book design and production, and publishing across all educational sectors.
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