Call for submissions: Issue 4 on ‘Touch’ (2023)

Inscription: the Journal of Material Text – Theory, Practice, History brings together the critical, historical, theoretical and creative, and features work by practitioners – book artists, printmakers and writers – alongside academic discussion. Its focus is not just on the meanings and uses of the codex book, but also the nature of writing surfaces, the process of mark marking and printing. Each edition is a formally innovative multi-media artefact, featuring a guest artist-in-residence, poet-in-residence and writer-in-residence. Launched in 2020, the journal has so far had editions on ‘beginnings’, ‘holes’, and ‘folds’.

Our theme for issue 4 is ‘touch’. We often talk of being ‘touched’ by a book, but what about the other way around? Reading involves touch in a physical sense: it’s an act that requires the hands as much as the eyes, to handle and open the book, to turn its pages, to crease and dog-ear to mark our place. These are actions we don’t usually notice, and which only occasionally leave a trace. The accidental inky fingerprint in an early modern margin is a sudden connection across time, and a reminder of the many hands that such a book has passed through. But there are forms of reading that specifically involve touch, including braille texts for sight-impaired readers, and also a whole tradition of books with moving parts. Johann Remmelin’s Catoptrum Microcosmicum (first published in 1619) involves readers lifting flaps to reveal the anatomical structure of a body. Dean and Son’s The Royal Punch and Judy (1859) utilises pull-tabs to make its puppet figures spring into action on the page. Marcel Duchamp’s Prière de toucher (Please Touch, 1947), meanwhile, has a 3-D breast on the cover, making readers think twice about their motives for fondling the book. How do books either invite or repel our touch, and what are the various modes of manual interaction they involve? What sensual, tactile pleasures does reading bring, and what kinds of touching are permitted, or out of bounds? What are the ethics of handling texts, especially in the context of the library, where rare and fragile material can be at risk? And what has happened to touch in a world of digital texts?

We invite contributions that consider touch in relation to material texts from any angle and from any period. Topics might include (but are not limited to)

• Books as erotic objects; the eroticism of book-handling
• Books carrying traces of touch – marks, stains, tears, inked finger-prints
• Damage and conservation
• Braille and reading by touch
• Theories of the haptic in relation to reading
• Touch and the digital text
• Reading as a sensual experience; the feel of books: bindings, paper
• Reading as manual activity or play in the context of moveable and toy books
• Protocols of book handling; the taboo of touching too much
• The shifting role of touch across manuscript, print, and digital media

Submissions should be between 5-8,000 words, and can take the form of scholarly articles as well as creative-critical pieces or more unorthodox works. The deadline for completed articles is 1 May 2023, for publication in Autumn 2023. Expressions of interest or short proposals are welcome at any point prior to this. Authors are welcome to include images with their text but images selected must be high resolution (.jpg or .tiff) and copyright permissions must be obtained by the author prior to the submission deadline. All contributions will be double blind peer reviewed, and material will be available for Open Access.

Contributions or expressions of interest should be emailed to

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Praise for Inscription:

‘The first journal to take the very act of inscribing – making marks, lines, notes, images – as its main area of inquiry. An exciting and timely undertaking.’
Johanna Drucker, Breslauer Professor in Bibliographical studies, UCLA

‘Sexiest academic journal ever?’
Dennis Duncan, Department of English, UCL