By Edward S. Robinson
Ink is a concept novel. It contains exactly what the title promises.
It’s perhaps fair to describe it not as a novel as such, as a visual art book. After all, even the most boundary-testing of novels, the likes of which eschew conventions such as linear narrative, plot and characterisation contain words or graphic representations in lieu of words to give the reader some kind of steer. But Ink contains no words, and the ink patterns it contains, while kaleidoscopic in a grayscale sort of a way, only represent themselves insofar as offering a communication between the book’s creator and its recipient. Of course, this is all part of Davis Schneiderman’s literary quest to dismantle notions of what constitutes a ‘novel.’
The questions Ink poses are manifold: must a novel actually contain words? It may not be a ‘graphic novel’ in the received sense, but it’s a book containing graphics: therefore, is it not a graphic novel? Must a novel convey anything specific? That is to say, need the creator actually speak to their audience? If anything, Schneiderman has virtually erased himself from the equation. Authorial voice is not even a consideration: Ink doesn’t even concede to mime clues to its audience. So what is the audience to make of it? Is there even an audience to speak of? Ink can elicit only an individual response, and offers next to no scope for a consensus interpretation, at least of its contents, as they appear on the page. No reading group will debate the meaning of the sequence of patterns from page 30 to 40, or give a close reading of the final section. Connecting on any level with Ink must be individual and therefore unique, an exercise in solipsism and a journey through inner space. Clearly, Ink does not convey anything explicit, and as such, the responses it may elicit are not guided by the contents. That its concept is very much concerned with intellectual provocation, it’s nevertheless conceivable that its contents may inspire an emotional response. Ultimately, it’s down to how the reader engages and far the reader allows themselves to become immersed in the experience.
Without words, the fundamental relationship between creator and audience is challenged: it would be erroneous to attribute the roles of ‘author’ and ‘reader’ to the process. And Ink is very much a book preoccupied the ‘the process.’ It can be theorised that here, ‘the process’ is not singular, but exists in layers, or stages – the creative process to printed output is the initial process, but by no means the end. The real process is not finite, and to be ever redefined as the audience’s engagement and interaction is the true focus of a work such as this. As reviewer, I too find myself implicated in an element of this process. But any review or critical analysis can only offer an individual perspective, and a lone voice can only offer questions, real or rhetorical, by means of grappling with the open-ended nature of the work.
Ink is published by Jaded Ibis Press