Walter Hamady, A Brilliant Nutty Fellow
Walter Hamady, born in Flint, Michigan, of a Lebanese father and an American mother in 1940, graduated from Wayne State University and Cranbrook Academy. Since 1964, he has run Perishable Press, where he published intricate, inventive small-edition books. He has often referred to books as “the Trojan Horse of art,” thinking of the way they sneak artistic ideas into a familiar format that can be handled with ease.
Hamady is a pivotal figure in book arts; he helped the art world to perceive the book in a new perspective. His books are humorous, inventive and interactive works of art. I will be delving into Walter’s poking entertainment and innovation – specifically in his fifth Gabberjabb; he challenges conventional ideas about the structure and function of books. For this purpose, I further investigated his satirical behavior and ingenious complexity.
Upon looking through Hamady’s Gabberjabb #5, I was immersed with its personality, this book was given life… he called attention to the art of the book itself having been printed, perforated, drawn, cut, stamped, collaged, taped, embossed, grommeted, signed, notarized, numbered, notched, torn, and bitten. Flipping through pages I noticed the endnotes at the end of words. Any scholar, I would presume, would automatically think, “a source?” Puzzled, I searched for these “sources” to finally stumble upon a manila book pocket with the silhouette of a man’s side profile collaged by a postcard. Inside this pocket, contained a small pamphlet titled,
I let out a soft chuckle in the reading room realizing the pun Hamady left for his spectators. Footnotes.
I returned to the very beginning of the Gabberjabb while constantly referring to the footnotes at my side. Travelling through, I could not help but laugh or smile a bit. Truthfully, I was having a conversation with this book. These notes reflected his own voice, it was almost like speaking with Walter Hamady himself.
“the Druze call it THE FORCE114” followed with the footnote, “Preceeds Star Wars. See ftN Forty-SiX through Seventy.”
“Copyright 1981 by Walter Samuel Hätoum Hamady” had a finger pointing to his name with the number 103, the note reads as follows: “(SEE: 38, 42, 47 & 95) My father once told me that in the old country, Hamady is a common name and has 5 branches; this one is ours.” Hamady settled in Wisconsin in 1966, he is a midwestern artist with roots in the Levant; hence, Walter Semi-Hittite Hamady or (WshH), one of several phrases of his name – Walter Samuel Hätoum Hamady.
The numbers mentioned are of other footnotes mentioned in the Gabberjabbs; unfortunately, I was incapable of observing his entire six volume series. There is a sense of poking fun and frustration given the reader’s willingness to find these notes Hamady suggests.
He adopted a narrative mode associated with scholarly essays; Hamady loved footnotes so, provided they are, in his view worthwhile. Numerous scholars would presume footnotes to be “offensive” as the notes can be “trivializing the text” and hence, a “waste of time.” Nonetheless, Hamady’s notes are pleasurable to read given that they are fundamentally, another story in themselves.
Along my journey of the Gabberjabb I noticed how he played with text. There were misspellings, fascinating punctuation, bolds, italics, capitalization, and so on and so forth. If one is willing to preserve, there are wonderful discoveries to be made. The mood of the book progresses. Reaching near the end of Gabberjabb #5, I took notice of a small alteration to the word “ibid”. It began with footnote *23, a personal reflection he stated. The play on words proceeded to various modifications: “*25 “ (you bite Maybe , “*28 “ It bit Need period after word me.”, “*29 “ tid Bit ColopHaperPun.”, “*30 “ tit bite.” Inside my head I would respond to each note thinking how much is that, what bit, is this a tid bit, and tit bite? The legibility and illegibility act on the pleasure and instruction of the book. There is an equal distribution between the printer and the writer.
There is a continuous disruption of extensive notes produced in the chronology of the text which generates a positive parallel in Hamady’s view – where the footnote is pushed as far as it can, or perhaps ought to, go, and yet he encourages his reader to follow his footsteps as the series moves forward.
May the dedicated reader, forewarned, wait with interest and some apprehension to see what will emerge from Walter Hamady’s Gabberjabbs.
Intimate qualities flow from Hamady’s worldview, one that necessarily sustains and is shaped by his manner of making art. Many artists cite an “art is life, life is art” philosophy, but Hamady’s output contradicts this otherwise. Whether in multifaceted anatomy of his books, construction of his assemblages or arrangements of his collages. Hamady’s work is intensely personal, bears his aura, and incorporates his experiences. Rather than enclosing out the viewer, these qualities only serve to draw us in, encouraging close looking and contemplation and affecting all the senses.
“The book, is perhaps the most personal form an artist can deal with. It encompasses a multiple and sequential picture plane, it is tactile, and to be understood, it must be handled by the viewer, who then becomes a participant.” - Walter Hamady
Behrens, Roy. “The Gift of Gabberjabbs.” Print, vol. 51, no. 1, 1997, pp. 64–71
Derrida, Jacques. “Living on.” Deconstruction & Criticism. New York: Continuum, 1979, pp. 75
Hamady, Walter. For the Hundredth Time &Quot;Gaebboerjabb Number (5) Five&Quot; : 12
&Amp; 17 November 1980 : Journal Liftings. Perishable Press, 1981.
Lydon, Mary. "The Trojan Horse of Art: Walter Hamady, the Perishable Press Limited and "Gabberjabbs 1-6"." Visible Language, vol. 25, no. 2, 1991, pp. 151. ProQuest.
Walter Hamady's Interminable Gabberjabs
Walter Hamady, born in 1940, attended the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan as an undergraduate and founded his own press - The Perishable Press Limited - in 1964. Two years later he established the Shadwell Papermill and began exploring the creation and usage of handmade paper. Since its inauguration, The Perishable Press name is credited with designing and publishing over 131 titles by numerous authors and visual artists(1). I will be discussing one of Hamady’s personal works, the Interminable Gabberjabbs series.
I had the opportunity this past week to visit ASU’s Special Collections and take notes on Hamady’s fifth book in the series, For the Hundredth Time Gabberjabb Number Five. (Due to the signing of an honor agreement, I cannot post the pictures I took. These images were found online.) Hamady is an accomplished poet, creating a sense of flow and unusual softness through his use of syntax and embellishment to even the simple prose that follows along the actual poems in the book. What struck me the most about the Gabberjabb series is how Hamady ignores the traditional rules we as readers have come to expect from codex-form books, particularly in his use of structure and language. Hamady’s Gabberjabbs have been described as a game of “Hunt the Footnote”(2), and upon viewing Gabberjabb Number Five(3) I found this to be more true than I could have anticipated. Housed in the second to last page of the book is a library card folder with a small pamphlet-stitched booklet boasting the title “👣NOTES”(4) that serves as an accompanying reading guide.
Gabberjab Five(6) contains 43 unique footnotes (numbered from “97²” to “140”, which is followed by a letterpressed STOP sign on the backside of the booklet) sprinkled throughout its text that truly embellish the reading experience. In one hand I held the booklet while with the other I flipped the pages of the book itself. Normally when I read text with footnotes - often academic papers of some kind - I read the whole page first and then view the footnotes second, but this book genuinely might have changed the way I read from now on. Hamady’s wild treasure map of a book structure forces the reader to remember that “[p]leasurable mystery of pre-literacy,”(7) that childhood-like experience of trying to make sense of the mess of symbols in front of us. It was refreshing, and having to think through every page that I read made me appreciate the content and Hamady’s artistic vision all the more.
The other aspect of Hamady’s Gabberjabbs that had me enamored from the beginning was the fact that, in these texts, spelling, punctuation, and capitalization follow the rules of prose at their own leisure. When Hamady mentions meeting the “General Sturgeon,” or over the course of ten footnotes makes the slow change from “Ibid.” to “tit bite,” there’s a sense of playfulness that just makes you smile as you’re reading. His dismissal of textual conventions isn’t solely for humor, though; in an odd way, it emphasizes the very specific emotions that his works manage to convey. Capitalizing several Words in a Phrase makes you take just a moment longer to savor each of them, and ov coarse 2 spell a word rong in th 1st place is a very purposeful statement that affects how you pronounce it in your mind as you read. ‘Incorrect’ text is just as important as ‘correct’ text is when it comes to conveying emotions, personal thoughts, and broad concepts, and Hamady’s Gaggerblab Five truly calls to attention how textual forms can affect the content they choose to portray. I had already been inspired by the few images of Hamady’s works that I could find online and the articles in journals praising his unique bookforms, but after seeing it in person, I’m more awed than ever by how he works and by how successful it really is.
(1) “Walter Hamady.” Wikipedia, 30 July 2018, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_Hamady. Accessed 8 Nov. 2018.
(2) Lyndon, Mary. “The Trojan Horse of Art: Walter Hamady, The Perishable Press Limited and ‘Gabberjabbs 1-6’.” Visible Language, vol. 25, iss. 2, 1991, https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy1.lib.asu.edu/docview/1297966346?accountid=4485&rfr_id=info%3Axri%2Fsid%3Aprimo. Accessed 7 Nov. 2018.
(3) A shortened form of the full title previously stated, For the Hundredth Time Gabberjabb Number Five, for purposes of readability and, to be quite honest, as an excuse from the author to continue to use the word “Gabberjab” in an academic report.
(4) Approximated; in the real book, the ftNode(5) booklet is inscribed with a letterpressed symbol of Hermes’ winged sandal, followed by the word NOTES.
(6) Apologies; another shortened title. For intents of this report, For the Hundredth Time Gabberjabb Number Five will hereafter be referred to by varying versions of its title, including but not limited to Gabberjab Number Five; Gabberjab Five; Walter Hamady’s fifth Gabberjab; Gabberblab Five the Fifth One, etc. At the reader’s discretion, to what I am referring should be instinctive.
(7) Lyndon, Mary.