The Art of the Classics Faculty Bookshelf: Lauren Dudley’s Artemis and Paul Chan’s Odysseus

Selection of Donald Judd’s Loeb Classical Library in his library

The online Faculty Bookshelf is becoming a common feature of university department websites, and Classics is no exception. These virtual bookshelves vary in how they create (or should I say, curate) an image of the collective intellectual achievements of the Faculty, ranging from the glamorous display at Yale, to the more basic presentation of my own department at Ohio State, to the bare listed facts of names and titles of USC. However, the Faculty Bookshelf is not only a necessary cog in the self-promotion machine of a Classics department, but a phenomenon that has attracted contemporary artists as well.While we can have fun searching the brilliant website of Donald Judd’s library for his collection of Loebs, there are more direct engagements between artists and the displayed fruits of Classical scholarship. The most explicit example is that of Lauren Dudley, a former Classics student at Washington University, Seattle, who used the physical Classics Faculty Bookshelf to create a wonderfully unique exploration of artist’s books in the university’s rare books collection (with the collaboration of the curator Sandra Kroupa).

Initially an exhibition, her project Under the Wings of Artemis: The Crossroads of Scholarship and Art – now a fascinating book, co-written by Dudley and Wendy Huntington, and including an essay by Kroupa, which you can either buy or read online here – uses the books of Classical scholarship published by the Washington Classics department as a starting point and framework for exploring themes that connect Classical antiquity to the artist book. These themes include:

Memory and History (Ch. 1) – inspired by Alan Gowling’s Empire and Memory: the representation of the Roman Republic in imperial culture.

New and Old Stories (Ch. 2) – building on Catherine Connors’ Petronius the Poet: Verse and literary tradition in the Satyricon. I must acknowledge here that I have Cathy to thank for telling me about Dudley’s project in the first place and for sending me a copy of the book.

Dedication and the Book as Object (Ch. 5) – fittingly grounded in Sarah Culpepper Stroup’s book Catullus, Cicero and a Society of Patrons:The Generation of the Text (cf. Catullus 1, cui dono lepidum novum libellum/arida modo pumice expolitum? – ‘To whom do I give this pleasing new little book/just now smoothed with dry pumice?’)

Beauty (Ch. 6) – with, who else but, Ruby Blondell’s Helen of Troy: the Consequences of Perfect Beauty

Each chapter opens with an image of the Faculty book that was the basis for the theme, explored through the artist’s book collection, which operates as a brilliantly creative substitute for the online Faculty Bookshelf – which, somewhat ironically, the Washington Classics Department doesn’t seem to have on their website!

View of bookstore by Paul Chan, Kiria Koula, San Francisco, 2014.

In a less direct engagement with the Classics Faculty Bookshelf phenomenon, artist, activist, writer and publisher Paul Chan has recently presented an exhibition of books in the unique bookstore exhibition-space of Kiria Koula in San Francisco. Chan’s selection not only includes his own books and those of his publishing house Badlands Unlimited, but also a whole bookshelf dedicated to his Classical reading (including, like Donald Judd, an iconic Green (=Greek) Loeb – but which one?). Many of these books are works of ancient literature and philosophy and scholarship connected to his lecture ‘Odysseus as Artist’ – delivered at the bookstore last November – but we can also appreciate his Classics reading more generally and how it connects to his past and future artistic practice. One way of doing this, is to compare the books displayed with a list of keywords included in the description of the project on the Kiria Koula website:

that moment, elation, “echo reconciles,” Adorno, form, “fatefulness,” Calypso, cave, contemporary art, homesickness, zones of engagement, Ithaca, luxury, alienation, the Iliad, force, gravity, cunning, polutropos, Athena, sophia, honor, themis, aristoi, Hesiod, aidos, glory, demos, bow and arrow, harbinger, reason, Athenian democracy, Sperber and Mercier, confirmation bias, credit card fraud, and art as cunning.

But, as you know, the best part of being in a bookshop – whether in person or online – is the browsing, so I’ll end this post now. But if you want more information about Chan’s Classical reading, either click here or on any of the title’s below, or look out for future posts.

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