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Book Review: Deletrix


Book Review Deletrix By Joan Fontcuberta Reviewed by Sarah Bradley Deletrix presents a collection of photographs of censored documents in the collection of European libraries, an on-going project by Joan Fontcuberta. With dates spanning between the 15th and 20th centuries, the images depict a range of scholarly, historical, religious and artistic texts, all the victims of censorship.

Deletrix. By Joan Fontcuberta.
Ediciones Poligrafa, 2013.
 
Deletrix
Reviewed by Sarah Bradley

Deletrix
By Joan Fontcuberta
$63.00 Signed
Ediciones Poligrafa, 2013. 96 pp., 44 color illustrations, 9x11".

"Deletrix is conceived as a rejection of any kind of censorship, wherever it comes from, and embodies this rejection in highly evocative images from the annihilating brutality of censorship" —Carme Arenas, Present of the Catalan PEN Centre

Deletrix presents a collection of photographs of censored documents in the collection of European libraries, an on-going project by Joan Fontcuberta. With dates spanning between the 15th and 20th centuries, the images depict a range of scholarly, historical, religious and artistic texts, all the victims of censorship. The work is presented with and in support of the Catalan branch of the writer's association PEN and are accompanied by a number of well-written essays that will re-ignite the passions of the converted. Apart from the bona fide cause of raising awareness, I'm wary of the expectation that depictions of the subject of protests inherently speak to the topic beyond the visual example. By viewing historical censorship are we able to understand something fundamental about current battles for freedom of expression?


Deletrix. By Joan FontcubertaEdiciones Poligrafa, 2013.

What these images do communicate with force is the strangeness of this act, of this kind of mark making. Scribbles, slashes and thick lines run through the printed text of great thinkers. Some pages have been meticulously obliterated while others are carelessly scratched out. The Deletrix, The Destroyer, is immediately visible, asserting himself with audacity on the page. Each example is a case study. Is a frantic scribble the mark of an uneven mind? What can be read in the tight and measured spirals that cover the words of Albert Krantz? Do we see creativity in the marks that obscure Luciano de Samosata's Dialogos or laziness in the fluid worm-like lines that cross (but only dim) the text of Conrad Gesner's Mithridates Gesneri? The censorship of images seems to naturally include elements of humor and editorializing (for a wonderful contemporary example see Censorship Daily); the crossed-out images within Deletrix are no exception. The choices made by the destroyers always feel revealing.

Deletrix. By Joan FontcubertaEdiciones Poligrafa, 2013.
Deletrix. By Joan FontcubertaEdiciones Poligrafa, 2013.

On occasion the defaced pages could be mistaken for modern art. Elements of beauty can easily be found in the ink and decay — black ink turning brown, at times ruining the stability of the paper, disintegrating it at the places of highest saturation. In the case of Juan de Robles Corvalan's Historia del Mysterioso Aparecimiento de la Santissima Cruz de Carabaca, the page itself is mostly gone. It can be beautiful, but the degradation is inseparable from violence. While earlier essays champion high-minded and unrepressed freedom of speech, Herta Muller and Salman Rushdie discuss the sobering reality of the human costs of censorship. "Censorship doesn’t end on paper," Muller reminds us. Rushdie modifies Bulgakov's "Manuscripts don't burn" with "but writers do." These inked-over documents don't immediately lend themselves as stand-ins for the human body, but a certain transubstantiation is notable in the slashes to the leather cover of Erasmus' Novum Testamentum Omne. The violence feels corporal, leaving puncture marks through the pages of Greek text. Be it that of the censor or censored, humanity is never far from these documents.

Deletrix. By Joan FontcubertaEdiciones Poligrafa, 2013.

Volumes are communicated in the act of obscuring, yet the censored texts are fluid documents, like a form of asemic writing. Fontcuberta presents them to us like a collection, a personal cabinet of curiosities displaying how fear can manifest in the swipe of a pen.—SARAH BRADLEY

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SARAH BRADLEY is a writer, sculptor and costumer, as well as Editor of photo-eye Blog. Some of her work can be found on her occasionally updated blog.

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