Unsightliness and Insight

"Theory," if you take it back far enough, derives from a root referring to vision or eyesight. Maybe it's pushing it to say that there is, then, inevitably an aesthetics of theory. But there's definitely an aesthetic dimension to some of the paperback editions of serious books. In a piece for Lingua Franca almost a dozen years ago, I quoted a (then-)recent discussion of the commodity fetishism some of us went through during the 1980s as various theoretical works came out in nicely designed series:

The New Left Books of the mid to late 1970s, with their "covers with Robert Natkin paintings that looked like pastel burlap," were followed by the wave of volumes from Minnesota University Press and Routledge during the 1980s -- that "great era of . . . translations of every interesting or even uninteresting Continental theorist...."

Man, that really takes me back, albeit in a superduper reflexive way: Now I'm feeling nostalgia for my nostalgia....

Over at the academic group blog Long Sunday, there's a quick review of some recent developments in the field of nifty theoretical book packaging. Here are a few highlights (which I've enhanced with some links):

Lifetime achievement award for general excellence - Verso - pretty much all good here....

Most notable exception to said excellence: The fauxtidian radical thinkers series, I was really embarrassed when I saw this, luckily their selections have been solid, and the second round wisely went Futuristic - still hideous, but less offensive.

Most unforgivable effort: Being and Event - Continuum - just a massive disappointment - looks like an overwrought beach novel.

Best Use of Artificial Color: Zone Books

My favorite example of commentary in this genre is still Anthony Paul Smith's takedown -- almost two years ago -- of some of the new paperbacks from Continuum. Now, that press does some excellent work, no doubt about it, but their reissues of classic books are just ghastly. I actually avoid them as much as possible. We're talking physical revulsion.

"Instead of classy," as APS says, "they now look like skateboard graphics. While trying to hard to be bad may have been cool in the early 90's, it just looks horrible for an academic book." And he provides graphics to prove it. Some of the more recent covers are, if anything, worse.

February 1, 2007 1:39 PM | | Comments (2)



I have to say, I actually like the first Radical Thinkers series. The brown covers were pretty tasteful and something about them (cheap) reminded me of old Penguin books. Penguin published the first serious philosophy I ever read (Kierkegaard and Nietzsche) and even though my copy of The Antichrist is already brittle after six years, I love it.

Continuum inherited the horrible covers for the transversals series (a pretty solid collection of books in the Deleuzian vein). The cover for Pure Critique leaves a spot in your vision, like the kind you get when you stare at the sun.

I agree with Bitch Ph.D. that the Continuum covers are effin' hilarious. Imagine, Scott, what they'd do with Goffman!

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This page contains a single entry by Quick Study published on February 1, 2007 1:39 PM.

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