When I first opened the Humament book, I was really intrigued by the unique form of art. As I looked it up, I found that this was what they called “altered book” where someone would basically take a book and alter its meaning or appearance to make it into a new kind of media. The main purpose of “Wreck this Journal” is basically to draw/write/glue/paint/etc. on the book to make it your own. Each page has a prompt or an idea, and the rest is up to the owner of the journal. Just like the Humament, the author is able to make the book very unique, but the only difference is that the “Wreck this Journal”s are more personalized, and not sold for profit. Either way, I really admire the idea of altered books and forms of mixed media.

Tom Phillips’ postmodern technique is not new, but it is postmodern. One of my favorite works of this technique–appropriately named erasure–is by Jen Bervin. Her work takes Shakespeare’s sonnets and strips them down to just Nets. Her technique is very similar to a new take on the trend– black out poetry.

In fact there is a whole Instagram account dedicated to the art. @makeblackoutpoetry showcases some of the latest works. These are more similar to Phillips’ work with the art worked into the background.

I used this technique with middle school students this summer. The results were intriguing and do not take that much skill to be creative. I guess in Phillips’ case there is more thought involved in order to write an entire novel. But the art in itself? Interesting, but about as impressive as high-low technology.

While doing some research after reading Humument, I discovered a Tumblr page (http://tomphillipshumument.tumblr.com/) dedicated to updating the public on recent news and developments in regards to Tom Philips’ Humument. It was here that I found the link to buy a Humument application for the iPhone/iPad. (https://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/mr-t-phillips/id402755496) Although I was unwilling to pay $6.99 for the application, the details and description give interesting insight into a possible different experience in viewing the book.

The description states,

“Combining the 367 full-colour pages of Tom Phillips’ artist’s book, the treated Victorian novel A Humument, with an interactive oracle function, this App displays the luminous artwork in a fun and highly accessible way. The App version updates with new pages, often in advance of their printed publication.

Using a chosen date and a randomly generated number the oracle will cast two pages to be read in tandem. You may receive direction, encouragement or warning. The Find wheel spins through the book to quickly navigate the pages visually and find your favourites. Email your personal choices or oracle reading to friends. Sharekit supports image posts to Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook direct from the App.”

Not only does the app allow for the ability for the book to be consumed through a different medium, it seems to be giving a different experience altogether. The application randomly generates a page for the user to read. In book form, the user can quickly flip through, reading pages that catch their eye, and avoiding ones that don’t. The user now possesses the ability to quickly favorite, share, and tweet pages they find interesting. I would be curious to see how  viewing the book on a tiny iPhone screen instead of physically would change the experience.

Many would assume of course that Tom Philips did not imagine or plan for the book to be consumed this way when he first published it in 1970. However, in an article reviewing the iPhone application, titled “Tom Philips and A Humument: how a novel became an oracle,” (http://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/may/20/tom-phillips-a-humument-birthday) the author states, “What’s really interesting about A Humument‘s digital counterpart is that it’s not just a facsimile edition of the print version. Instead, Phillips implements something he’s wanted to be possible all along: the ability to select two pages at random and gain an insight from the juxtaposition, in the tradition of such divination books as the I Ching.” It’s interesting to note that Philips actually intended the pages to be consumed this way, without actually knowing it would be eventually be possible. Philips even says the colors are more vivid on the screen than his pens or paints.

11. November 2014 · 1 comment · Categories: 2.4

The peculiar but artful format of A Humument immediately hooked me. Its manipulation of text and images – which in turn becomes text in images – creates a new experience for readers accustomed to conventional styles of books. Shortly into reading it, I was reminded of another book that plays with text and format, albeit in a different way: House of Leaves. Much like A Humument, the novel calls to attention more than just the words on the page. House of Leaves begins as what seems to be a traditional narrative, but quickly throws readers for a curveball. The novel utilizes all kinds of visual effects unconventional to normal stories. Varying fonts and orientations cause the reader to become increasingly aware of changes in presentation. As a result, rather than just introduce several layers to the story, it also twists and turns the text so that readers not only read the book, but look at it. These images only present a fraction of the jarring formats used to provide a visual link to the story. In this way, both A Humument and House of Leaves convey the intersection of text and mediation by way of changing the conventions of books. They take something old (in A Humument’s case, Tom Phillips literally takes something old) and present it again in a way that’s new, thereby emphasizing medium and materiality.



When I flipped to the first page of A Humament I was taken aback at the presentation style of the novel. Tom Phillips crafted this novel using what W.H. Mallock had left for him. He used its pages as a canvas for his own illustrations and he rearranged the words to serve his own purpose. I instantly saw parallels between what Phillips did in his novel and what “modders” do in video games. For those unfamiliar with the term “modders” they are people, usually fans of the original video game, who utilize aspects of a game (sound effects, character models, environments, game engine, and other things) to create their own video game that can range from being similar to the source material or a completely different experience. Some people argue that mods for games corrupt the original material while some believe it only makes people appreciate the source material more. These feelings I’m sure are present with this novel as well. I personally support the modding of any media whether it be video games or novels. To me they signify a community that appreciate the original work and wish to use it to improve or prolong the experience. To elaborate on the YouTube video posted above the game, Half Life, was originally a science fiction first person shooter but through the community’s modding efforts has stemmed off into militaristic FPSs (Counter-Strike and Day of Defeat), horror FPSs (They Hunger and Afraid of Monsters), first-person RPG (Master Sword), and even a 3rd person fighter (Earth’s Special Forces). Some of these mods became stand-alone games however the brilliance of Half Life lives on with the success of the mods, Half Life 2, and the eventual, one day, a long time from now, really long awaited Half Life 3.

The novel is very different from ordinary books. The text is difficult to comprehend because you really cannot tell which part is suppose to be read ahead of the other. Also each page has a different illustration, that I think go along with text. For example, page 23.

The page is covered with leaves. Textually, the page talks about the composition of the land which is doctored by the men. This concept is compared to the idea of a book and a novel. By doctored, I think Tom Philips means take care of or create. He says the audience doctors the books and novels. You could see the audience could be symbolized as the leaves since each leaf is different from the other. Each stem, creates a different leaf. My intuition about this page, is that we, the readers, are responsible for how the books are interpreted.  There are many ways you could connect the art to text. Also in this page and other pages, Philips uses words that are not defined. In this example, praved and pular are not actual words. What do you think is being symbolized in this page? or do you think Philips is not really drawing anything that connects to actual text?


A Humument was very confusing for me to read and follow along because of all the pictures. I am a conventional reader and my eyes could not focus. Because I was having trouble just figuring out which word came next and trying to follow the “maze,” my mind was focused on reading the words and I could not actually take in their meanings. Though I was not able to read and understand the book very well, I do still believe it is very interesting.

“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” A Humument is a great example of this concept. Phillips used his artistic skills to paint over words of one novel to create another novel. Some of the drawings are opaque and only certain words are left out, while others are transparent and you can see the words in the background. Some of the drawings clearly correspond to the words, while others seem to be random. The drawings are very diverse; if I saw these pictures in a gallery, I would not think that the same artist did them.

So, how does all of this affect the materiality of the piece itself? I believe that it adds materiality. Though some words are left out, the drawings and structure of this “new” novel gives it an edge over the original novel. The diversity of the drawings also adds materiality because not one type of drawing is used and each page is represented differently. This “new” novel can now attract readers of all ages. Though younger readers may not be able to fully read and comprehend the novel, the pictures on each page will still give them something to look at. Older readers should be able to read and understand the novel, but it attracts them because it is not your normal novel, it’s something different. Readers like me will have trouble reading and understanding the novel, but we can connect the words and write them down to help with comprehension; though, we are more focused on analyzing the drawings and artistic aspect.

A Humument is an interesting read — for me, I was struggling to comprehend the text. I couldn’t really follow the focus of words, and it was very difficult to try and guess which side to read from first. I read it, but was not able to truly understand the book due to the lack of meaning that I found with each of the phrases connected with one another. Regardless, I found A Humument to be an interesting way of adding an extra layer of materiality to something. Similar to the way stories are told orally and are gradually changed due to each own storyteller’s way of explaining it, I found that the text did something like that — in that it added art and depth by changing the way the reader would typically read the text. Instead of blocky text, Phillips cuts that out and leaves each page with only a few phrases, drawing over the majority of the text. This text is a game changer in the way that people view novels. Most have a strict definition of how a novel should look, but Phillips changes this by “damaging” the text and changing it to have it read something different. It adds another layer to the materiality of the text, and due to the fact that each page is so different, it’s almost like the individual page deserves to be on display on its own. Sure, it’s harder to comprehend, but that’s balanced with the drawings in the text. Because of its harder to read nature, the drawings help by giving you something to look at.

Some people are visual learners, and this sort of treatment towards the text makes it easier for those who are visual learners to keep focused on what they’re reading. On the downside, some people understand better when it’s text that flows when you read it, so this kind of text is a little obscure to them. It’s harder to understand when the text is actually supposed to tell you something, or if the drawings behind it are the story. My question for you all is simple — when do people draw the line? When is A Humument no longer a story, but rather a piece of art or archival method of giving an old text a new look to keep people interested (similar to what we’re aiming to do for our final project)? Or is it perhaps both? And does Phillips’ treatment take away from the original book because he’s creating a new story out of the original — is this considered losing or adding materiality?

Despite my difficulty reading the text, I think this is a very unique idea of treating old texts, and I’d love to see more people branch out and add another layer of materiality to their texts the way that Phillips has done.


The above page was one that I found pretty interesting and representative of the overall novel. Instead of marking out the words he didn’t want included with a sharpie, he took a basis of the word “mud” and covered the bits of the book that he didn’t want included in mud. Looking at this on a computer screen, it really looks like the page was covered in dirt and mud. At an initial glance through the book, I immediately thought: “this book is going to be so difficult to read.” This thought occurred to me because as we’re accustomed to reading from left to right, the portions of text here are grouped together going against my natural desire to read the book from left to right. But, I think that this actually brings way more meaning and importance to the book because of this. By forcing the reader to change the way they’re used to reading, it allows them to put a little bit more thought and care into the book. It forces the reader to stop, see the words, and relate it to the imagery that the author chose to seclude words. I really feel like this novel solidifies some of the concepts of this class. Especially in the way that they experimented with the materiality of the original novel.

“A Humument,” by Tom Phillips, is a very difficult read. It’s not so much the topic, subject, or story; Phillips uses his unique style of art to slow the reader down, and forces us to take it one page at a time, using strange layouts for words and phrasing, and incorporating words that seem to be made up at first, forcing us to consult a nearby dictionary. Those of us who are used to reading at a fast pace must have begun to lose patience at first. But as Phillips wanted us to know, it’s worth slowing down. The read is more of an abstract artistic comprehension and appreciation than anything else.

Phillips is not trying to bring the original text “Human Document” to the forefront, but he repurposes this piece of literature as an easel, and a typewriter. He creates his own work from the ashes of another’s, and his own, in a sense. He is obviously a perfectionist, as there are 5 editions of the book in circulation (1972 publication, 3 revised publications, and the ipad version). There were things he wanted to change, to add, to remove. In particular, the revision that struck me the most was page 4 of the ipad version. “Pasted on to the present, see, it is 9-11. The time singular, which broke down illusion.” Two of his added pictures show the twin towers in peril. The other two I assume were the illusions that were broken down. Poetry, art, and literary genius show in his use of an often-overlooked Victorian novel.

Ironically, one can see Phillip’s personality through his art disguise in some ways. He often appears to tend towards narcissism. Like Stephen King in the Dark Tower series, Phillip addresses himself in the third person as the creator of the “art” he is describing with the words that he allows to show through the illustrations. “In that odd, broken novel poken by the insertion of man, Marie Bash was made art.” And his abstract art can somewhat be seen to describe the words he has pieced together in such a tedious manner.

Overall, it was an enjoyable experience, and a very interesting and creative style. I would not have sought it at first myself, but I hope to see more of this type of writing done in the future.