Simon Morris; Pigeon Reader, 2012
Inspired by Georges Perec’s musings on reading, which he likens to “a pigeon pecking at the ground in search of breadcrumbs”, Simon Morris’ latest book sets exactly those feral avians to work on the very surface of Perec’s celebrated text “Reading: A Socio-physiological Outline”. In the process he puts pressure on all of the terms in Perec’s title: what does it mean to engage a text physically — looking at print, flipping pages, processing language, vocalizing, responding — without any of the social practices or semantics we usually associate with “reading.” Or, to put this as Wittgenstein might: what activities still embody a grammar of reading even in the absence of what would seem to be its defining features.
Moreover, Pigeon Reader intervenes as a precise facsimile edition of Perec’s book, Species of Spaces and Other Pieces (trans. John Sturrock, London: Penguin books, 1997), with only the single chapter on reading modified. Pigeon Reader is thus also a kind of inversion, as well as an intervention: where British copyright laws permit copying 5% of a book, Morris has copied 95%. In reprinting the book to this extent, Morris’ conviction has gone beyond the recent tradition of the artists’ insert. Within the paratext he has corrupted the corporate branding, with penguins morphing into pigeons and advertisements re-imagined. One could be forgiven for asking why someone would remake an entire book just to make a conceptual play in a single chapter. Morris would likely respond by further appropriating and recontextualizing Perec’s closing words from “Reading”: “These are questions that I ask, and I think there is some point in a writer asking them.”