running words around
design education and visual communication
authored by chris m hughes

Tree of Codes - Almost Reinventing Print

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Jonathan Safran Foer's new book 'Tree Of Codes' has just been published, and is a ground-breaking piece of book design, as well as an interesting take on William S. Burroughs famous cut-up writing technique.

The book is not an original work of written fiction. Rather, it's a selection of extracts from Bruno Schultz' 1934 short story 'Street of Crocodiles'. The twist is that the extracts are created using die-cut on each page to layer and reveal words and phrases which combine and read as a 'new' text.

The publishers, Visual Editions, claim that they were turned down by every printer they approached, until Belgian printers Die Keure in Belgium took on the considerable task of creating a 134-page book with a different die-cut on every page.

This book is not only an experiment in visual design, it looks and feels like a piece of sculpture, and it shows us what can still be done with paper.

As to its literary merits, I'm guessing that the critics will be split. It's certainly a work in the ergodic tradition, and Safran Foer desribes the work as an 'interface between the visual arts and literature'. Michael Faber reviewed it favourably in the Guardian a few weeks ago and the book is certainly allowing critics to talk about the construction and texture of writing again, rather than just the plot and the style.

If Tree of Codes is a success, it should rejuvenate book design, and will hopefully introduce a new generation of readers to one of the seminal writers of the early 20th century.

Schultz was certainly not prolific - he only published two books ('Street of Crocodiles' and 'Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass') before he was shot in 1942 by the Gestapo, but if you are a fan of Kafka or Bulgakov then you will certainly enjoy them.

Safran Foer talks about Tree of Codes.