Proposal for Dregs, Dross and Debris: The Art of Transient Print

[I’m really excited to be speaking at ‘Dregs, Dross, and Debris: The Art of Transient Print‘, a two-day conference organised Print Networks with Liverpool John Moores University and the Centre for Printing History and Cultures (CPHC). My paper is the first of a number I plan to give exploring print ephemera in preparation for a chapter of my book to be written later in the year. The proposal is below]

Ephemera belongs to the dead: affect, print, and memory

This paper considers a particular genre, printed ephemera, and the ways in which it survives in collections, whether formally (as a designated category) or informally (tucked away inside books etc). There is something charming in those things meant to be discarded, their unexpected survival evoking the moment passed. It is for this reason we keep ticket stubs and leaflets; it is for this reason too that libraries have acquired collections of printed ephemera. Not printed to be kept, such material feels more authentically of its time.

My paper is on printed ephemera as a category, with a focus on nineteenth-century print in particular. Job printing underpinned the trade in all periods, but the development of new imaging technologies and the reduction in paper and advertising duties meant that the Victorians not only handled more bits of printed paper, but they kept more too. I consider how print helped enable the everyday in the nineteenth century and the forms it which that everyday was preserved.

Print is both a way of fixing information in condensed form, stabilising it for futurity, and a technology of reproduction, producing copies whose abundance operated to offset fragility. With oblivion in view, ephemera stands for the latter facet of print culture and its unlikely survival, its return from the dead, gives it historical value. My argument, however, is that while ephemera promises to resurrect the passing moment, it bears a peculiar affective charge because of what is not there. Finding something between the pages of a book hints at a story that will never be told; what we feel is the echo of all that must be forgotten.