Kafka, Chapter 2 (‘The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft a-gley.’ )

Kafka, Chapter 2 (‘The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft a-gley.’ )

When I started the book, everything went smoothly and it seemed like it would be a straightforward project. The plan was to open the paper, stack it flat to relax, and cut it to size on a guillotine. Easy, right? I had cut Japanese paper this way, so it should work and I could get to printing. Then, out of the blue, Robbie Burns’ ‘Gang aft a-gley’ kicked in. Chinese paper is shipped ‘gently folded’ in packages of 50 sheets, rather than being rolled around a core. When the box arrived, I opened the packages and lay the paper out flat so it could relax before being cut to size. It didn’t relax. I waited. I tried putting weight on top. I rolled it up and let it sit over night. In the process of trying to flatten it, I realized that, because of its soft texture, it also wasn’t going to jog well enough to be cut on a guillotine. Time for plan B. Water. The 27″ x 54″ sheets were too big to dampen and stack, so I folded and knife-cut each sheet into eighths by hand. As I started folding it in half, I realized the paper wasn’t square. The concertina structure, with pages tipped back-to-back, requires that the pages be the same size and square. Time for plan C. Sigh. I would have to fold each sheet in half and trim it to square by hand before printing, then trim the head and tail of the book block after it was glued so they would all be the same size. The paper is Double Xuan, 2-ply paper we chose because it...
Printing Kafka’s ‘Great Wall of China’

Printing Kafka’s ‘Great Wall of China’

1. In the beginning… I have been working on an artist book of Kafka’s short story ‘The Great Wall of China’ for over a year. 2016 was the 30th anniversary of my return from a year teaching English in Chongqing, Sichuan; 2017 is the 100th anniversary of the creation of Kafka’s story, although it wasn’t published until 1931, after his death. The project has been a somewhat surreal endeavour at a time when the news was full of Donald Trump’s promise to build a wall along the southern border of the US, to make the Mexican government pay for it, to deport undocumented workers, and to ban Muslims. Kafka’s story seems eerily contemporary. In the story, a half-century before the wall is started word is spread through the country that people should train as architects and masons for the future. When the work is started, it is built in sections that aren’t connected – when one section is completed the group of workers is moved to a distant place to start another section. The populace is made afraid of invaders and distracted with preventing their arrival, keeping the nation unified by focussing on a defensive project. I was delighted to get permission from Ian Johnston to use his translation, and from Vihanga Perera to use an essay he had written about the story. The text was sent to Michael and Winifred Bixler to cast new type. Duncan Major agreed to create linocut illustrations, and the wheels were rolling! I wanted to use Chinese paper and a Chinese structure for the story. After testing several sheets, Duncan and I decided the double xuan paper seemed best. It had a bit...

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