Take Care of Yourself Cover

Remediating Interpretation: Sophie Calle Rewrites Epistolarity

Elizabeth Heckendorn Cook

Anti-remediation, or visual-arts criticism without pictures: the case of Take Care of Yourself

This website allows me to present five images taken from Sophie Calle’s exhibition catalogue Take Care of Yourself, which documents her 2007 Venice Biennale installation Prenez Soin de Vous. The images are discussed in my essay “Remediating Interpretation: Sophie Calle Rewrites Epistolarity,” and the essay—but not the images—is included in Women, gender, and print culture in eighteenth-c. Britain: essays in memory of Betty Rizzo, edited by Temma Berg and Sonia Kane (2013).

My essay argues that Calle’s work wittily revises the ‘seduced and abandoned woman’ plot of many eighteenth-century letter fictions through the self-referential use of digital and post-postal media to remediate (in two senses) the effect of the ‘break-up letter.’ It’s ironic, then, that I find myself using a webpage (courtesy of UCSB’s English Department’s emcIMPRINT) to make Calle’s images available to readers interested in her work. The publication circumstances that bring you here, dear reader, constitute a fable about the current transitional (and messy) state of copyright law in scholarly publishing, reflecting the ways in which the entire creaky industry is trying to reconfigure itself to cope with digital as well as print distribution of our work.

Copyright of the exhibition catalogue is owned by the publishing company Actes Sud (or, as an 18th-c. writer of a certain sort might put it, A---- S---). Following the usual route for the legal reproduction of images, I requested permission to reproduce these in the volume, which was to have the small print run typical of academic books. Actes Sud promptly and freely granted permission for their print reproduction. Subsequently, the volume was moved to a different publishing company, which offers ‘e-book’ as well as print versions of its products. I returned to Actes Sud with an amended request for permission for print and digital reproduction, citing the publisher’s assurance that the e-book version would be ‘read-only,’ a format that allows no access to the raw file and thus no way to manipulate the image; anyone wishing to use the image would still be required to seek explicit permission. The publisher further acknowledged that e-book sales of its academic publications were ranging from negligible to non-existent, yet it insisted on its right to offer the volume in this format. Actes Sud in turn refused permission for digital reproduction. As a result the essay has been published without the images it analyzes (citation below).

This minor episode highlights the confused current state of academic publishing as scholars explore new publication practices and journals move over to digital platforms. In practice, the boundaries of copyright and intellectual property issues continue to be pressed by academic writers and scholars who rely on the Fair Use Exemption (Section 107 of United States Copyright law) to copy passages constituting a limited portion of a book or to reproduce low-resolution digital files illustrating an argument. Across the barricades, those boundaries continue to be policed by media corporations and publishers and by individual artists and authors (including academic authors) determined to sustain intellectual property rights and the income streams (or trickles) these may offer. In the face of soaring subscription costs for academic libraries and plummeting subvention levels for academic presses, open-access publication and alternative licensing arrangements (such as those formulated by the Creative Commons) are being explored on many university campuses and championed by many scholars, but counterarguments continue to be mounted against their universal implementation.

In the meantime, while we wait for academic publication to sort out its future relations with the cross-media, multi-platform publishing ecology most of us inhabit, I invite you to enjoy this selection of Sophie Calle’s images of women re-reading, re-interpreting, and re-mediating letters. For fair-use access, please contact me at ecook@english.ucsb.edu for a password.

There will be a roundtable on Rizzo’s scholarship and the volume in her honor at the 2013 meeting of the East-Central American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies (EC/ASECS).

Cook, Elizabeth Heckendorn. "Remediating Interpretation: Sophie Calle Rewrites Epistolarity." In Women, gender, and print culture in eighteenth-c. Britain: essays in memory of Betty Rizzo, edited by Temma Berg and Sonia Kane. Rowman Littlefield Publishing Group, 2013. 285-301.