A Humument by Tom Phillips
A Treated Victorian Novel (Fifth Edition)

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Synopsis

“A ‘treated Victorian novel’—treated with humor and poetry, and a feeling for the ‘ghosts of other possible stories’ lurking in the original text. It may be the closest a paperback book has come to being an art object.”—New York

In the mid-1960s, Tom Phillips took a forgotten nineteenth-century novel, W. H. Mallock’s A Human Document, and began working over the extant text to create something new. The artist writes, “I plundered, mined, and undermined its text to make it yield the ghosts of other possible stories, scenes, poems, erotic incidents, and surrealist catastrophes which seemed to lurk within its wall of words. As I worked on it, I replaced the text I’d stripped away with visual images of all kinds. It began to tell and depict, among other memories, dreams, and reflections, the sad story of Bill Toge, one of love’s casualties.”

After its first publication in book form in 1980, A Humument rapidly became a cult classic. This new fifth edition follows its predecessors by incorporating Phillip’s latest revisions and reworkings, and celebrates an artistic enterprise that is forty-five years old and still actively a work in progress.

368 color illustrations
 

About Tom Phillips

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The English painter, writer, and composer Tom Phillips curated the groundbreaking exhibition "Africa: The Art of the Continent" at the Royal Academy in 1992. He is himself a collector of African art, specializing in the arts of Ghana and the Ivory Coast. His other books include The Postcard Century.
 
Published May 21, 2012 by Thames & Hudson Ltd. 392 pages
Genres: History, Arts & Photography, Literature & Fiction. Fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for A Humument

London Review of Books

‘In this unique fiction,’ say the publishers, ‘word and image meet with a richness scarcely seen since Blake.’ Certainly A Humument is no ordinary novel: but nor is it much like Blake’s engravings, ‘Word and image’ meet in these pages more as they do in a comic strip – in particular, the comic st...

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London Review of Books

A Human Document opens: ‘The following work, though it has the form of a novel, yet for certain singular reasons hardly deserves the name.’ Phillips obscures most of the first page with a blue and orange arrow, leaving a few scattered words that cohere into a version of the opening of Virgil’s Ae...

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Literary Review

But as the fifth edition illustrates, Phillips's designs have become increasingly sophisticated, from a vivid self-portrait (alongside a photograph of Phillips playing cricket) to parodies of Blake, Picasso and Pop Art, to collages of Marvel comic strips, maps, and old postcards.

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The Kenyon Review

a creator of art) and audience has always been a complex one, dictated by both intention and means and the intersection of intention and means, but here its resolution is finalized in the stark denial of access to the creating party: he or she is not able to observe, with any reasonable level of ...

Aug 07 2012 | Read Full Review of A Humument: A Treated Victori...

The Kenyon Review

New rituals can eventually be devised, and are—as I mentioned before with regard to advertising and its ingenious fusion of the cult value and exhibition value of a given object—but such sheer changes in presentation as are made to paintings when reproduced via facsimiles in a paperback edition, ...

Jul 19 2012 | Read Full Review of A Humument: A Treated Victori...

The Kenyon Review

And it facilitates this Eliot-esque fluctuation in which the historical is both a combined sense of temporality, a-temporality, and both together: clusters of text are placed in strategic interaction with the paintings that “overwrite” (if we want to take on one hierarchy) them, and there is just...

Jul 05 2012 | Read Full Review of A Humument: A Treated Victori...

The Kenyon Review

But though the work designed explicitly for reproduction is related to Phillips’s work, with its printed editions and vocation-based origin denying most notions of authenticity admission to its interpretation, it is not its equivalent;

Jul 13 2012 | Read Full Review of A Humument: A Treated Victori...

The Kenyon Review

Regardless, they have conflated into a cauldron of elements: the aura—now muffled in the background—of the original object, the improvised aura of its reproduction, and the newer cult value which is a combination of these auras with a sense of the object as inherently designed for exhibition.

Jul 18 2012 | Read Full Review of A Humument: A Treated Victori...

The Kenyon Review

This is where A Humument breaks with even other similar avant-garde works: its constant creation and dispersion render unstable all attempts to structuralize interpretations about what it might be “saying,” if works like this speak (or if the speech, in this case, is a combination of Mallock, Phi...

Jun 11 2012 | Read Full Review of A Humument: A Treated Victori...

The Kenyon Review

Several decades after the last edition of Leaves of Grass made its way to the public, in 1927, Louis Zukofsky began work on his magnum opus “A.” He remained at work on the manuscript until his death, though he took an eight-year break starting in 1940.

Jun 26 2012 | Read Full Review of A Humument: A Treated Victori...

The Kenyon Review

The history of every art form, he reminds us, shows critical epochs in which a certain art form aspires to effects which could be fully obtained only with a changed technical standard, that is to say, in a new art form.

Aug 31 2012 | Read Full Review of A Humument: A Treated Victori...

The Kenyon Review

But let’s consider an alternate approach to page 119, one in which we recast the text from the bottom of the page to the top: This reading transforms the selection of text almost entirely from its previous state.

Jun 22 2012 | Read Full Review of A Humument: A Treated Victori...

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Italicized lines in this piece are sourced from Walter Benjamin’s essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, and each corresponds to the section of the original essay in… Continue reading → A Humument in the age of mechanical reproduction (part i) (Itali...

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