In the spirit of play, I aspire to create a type of digital gallery of my own material book markers to highlight tension within the device’s evolving-toward-immaterial definition in digital spaces, and observe its anachronistic practice.
“Literally, it refers to something that lasts through the day, which is the case of some winged insects.”
— Michael Twyman, in the Editor’s Introduction to The Encyclopedia of Ephemera.
It is likely that, at this digital moment and on this platform, the word “bookmark” pulls your mind to a function of the web browser. Bookmarking as a means of link storage has shadowed the action of inserting a slim, rectangular object into a book to indicate your pause. To gracefully accept metamorphosis of the term in the quick river of language is to not linger on the conceptual implications of the name. However, it is fun to briefly play there, visualizing a vast, personalized Internet accordion filed with “pages” you plan to visit, revisit, or otherwise archive; or how the bookmarks “shelf” bar sits on the top of your screen, installed there, like with a hammer and nails; clearing your “history;” and so on… To do this is to attempt to collapse the noncollapsible and assign materiality.
Like their electronic counterpart, material bookmarks are shortcuts, although the relationship between the bookmark and the book object has been historically vital. When books were more precious by construction, as in both fragile and valuable, the book marker was made to be gentle. And, thus, “ephemera”’s dual-definition captures the physical bookmark’s essence in two ways: first, the paper-thin, inconspicuous, and temporary qualities of the book marker itself and, second, the thought that bookmarks might become obsolete in the wake of more durable (or digitally readable) books. The upload of books to digital spaces has removed an element of physicality from durability; books have become materially incorruptible. The phasing out of bookmarks and, ultimately, printed books has been slowed somewhat by print culture and a revival in interest of the book as art object, as well as inexpensive promotional opportunities afforded by the qualities of the bookmark medium. Dog-earing, the common term for folding a page’s corner, leaving an indentation if unfolded, embeds more memory in a book than a traditional bookmark would typically permit by definition. The wrinkle remaining on the page as the reader moves on is evidence of pause, a trace of interaction between the reader and her object. Many literary purists still frown upon this practice, although most books in modern production can withstand the pressure of this creasing. Archivists and historians working with older textual bodies have more reason to be cautious.
The web bookmark is connected to its material model by a similar lack of residual presence on the interface it “marks.” This relationship is one of privacy and delicacy. To live in a time of overlap between these terms is stirring to a part-time librarian (such as myself) who is constantly leafing through borrowed books to discover postcards, academic notes, grocery lists, ribbons, post-its, receipts, and, just once, a handwritten spell on a tissue in the pages. Unlike sticky notes or similar items with adhesive, ephemera functioning as bookmarks do not damage the pages of borrowed and circulating books. The abandoned, light, paper ephemera that has taken on the role of “bookmark” is extremely various in type. There is something intimate beyond general held book intimacy about the bookmark’s place, its shape, and its total submission to the repurposing. In this spirit, I aspire to create a type of digital gallery of my own book markers, to highlight tension within the term’s mutable definition, and observe its practice.
Below, I am using a poetry collection published in 1897 by Thomas Y. Crowell & Co. and edited by Matthew Arnold titled Poems of Wordsworth as a model for the selected ephemera. The cover’s obvious age, fragility, and spectacular aesthetic decisions (I mean the pinecones) float the superficial charm of corporeal bookmarks.