Nina Wood

The graphical side of contemporary literature

School of Art

What if contemporary literature breaks with the dictum of meaning and narrative structure not only in terms of content – i.e. syntactically, intertextually, poetically – but also in terms of form, typographically or graphically? Researching The graphical side of contemporary literature requires a comprehensive reflection on the interdependence of graphics and literature. The focus of this research is the discourse of the concepts of graphic and contemporary literature, the interpretation of empirical examples, that demonstrate the specifics of graphic and contemporary literature, and the examination of such theoretical positions, with which to ascertain to what extent writing and literature, text and image, form and content, in short, graphic and contemporary literature relate to one another. At the same time contemporary literature is not understood as a type of literature defined by its period of origin - as being written, edited, published in present time - but rather as a literature, whose characteristic it is to emphasize temporality and as such reveals itself to the reader only through the act of reading.

Of interest to this study especially are examples in which the break with tradition becomes apparent in the ways in which it disrupts the present reading or viewing habit within the text, where a narration that goes hand in hand with a reading habit and temporality remains present and therefore can be broken within the text. The graphic side of contemporary literature has the potential to break from the conventional reading or viewing habits in different ways. If one were to traverse the pole between a functionality that makes typography subservient to content and the pole of a radical break this potential generates, the graphic can work inter-punctually, figurative-formally and performatively. With this understanding, if one were to view graphic and contemporary literature as similar a great arsenal of movements reveals itself dating back to the 18th century, including not only literature but artistic movements in a broader sense. Symbolism, Lettrism, Concrete Poetry, Futurism, Dadaism and some Conceptual Art, to name just a few examples, are movements dedicated to exploring the tension between (non)sense and sound, concept and form, image and text, and form and syntax, and which are still to be explored through research. Consequently, this work seeks to approach the subject of research with an understanding of literature and its modes of disposal which overlap with theoretical strategies of contemporary art.

That literature nowadays can be understood as art and thus can be assessed with the means of philosophical aesthetics is something that Wolfgang Iser emphasizes when he writes:

»Aesthetic response is therefore to be analyzed in terms of a dialectic relationship between text, reader, and their interaction. It is called aesthetic response because, although it is brought about by the text, it brings into play the imaginative and perceptive faculties of the reader, in order to make him adjust and even differentiate his own focus.“1  

The graphic side of contemporary literature thus opens up a field of research that is as rich as it is sometimes inadequately examined.

1 ​Wolfgang Iser: The act of reading: a theory of aesthetic response. London: The Johns Hopkins 1 University Press, 1978, Preface X.


  • Prof. Dr. Juliane Rebentisch
  • ​Prof. Heiner Blum