The Invisible Book

Gill Partington, “The Invisible Book,” LRB Blog 6 May 2014

A while ago I bought an invisible book. Or at least I think I did. It’s hard to tell. I certainly got a confirmation email from its author and creator, the artist Elisabeth Tonnard, advising me that it had been sent and acknowledging my payment of €0. This seems like a shrewd investment: my book is one of a limited edition of 100 (neither signed nor numbered) and, as Tonnard’s website says, it is ‘a product without a single fault, available at the lowest price possible’. To make the transaction a little more concrete I also ordered the set of (visible) postcards accompanying the work. Highlights in the History of ‘The Invisible Book’ includes pictures of the book’s early underwater testing in the Galapagos Islands, its acclaimed 1962 exhibition at the New York Public Library, and the undisclosed facility where the original manuscript has been kept since the 1870s, although ‘some say it is no longer there’.

[…] In No Medium, Craig Dworkin goes still further in shifting the page from background to foreground, identifying a canon of non-texts, works composed only of blank space: the empty fictional journal Nudisme, brandished in the opening scenes of Cocteau’s Orphée; the unused ream of typing paper ‘published’ by Aram Saroyan in 1968, and the de Kooning drawing painstakingly erased by Robert Rauschenberg. Paper here is not a mere support, medium or conduit, but a distinct object with qualities, substance and meaning in its own right. There are other artists and writers who explore these meanings, practising a perverse kind of writing, or perhaps unwriting, in which the creative act involves not inscription but erasure, blankness and redaction. Dworkin’s sometime collaborator, Nick Thurston, has produced an edition of Maurice Blanchot’s Space of Literature, in which Blanchot’s words have been entirely excised, and the text consists only of Thurston’s marginal notes.

[…] Tonnard’s book isn’t non-existent or imaginary. Just invisible.

From Dutch artist and poet Elzabeth Tonnard‘s website:

The Invisible Book is a book produced in limited edition at the affordable price of €0. It will work as a digital book too, on any platform. The edition is limited to 100 copies (neither numbered nor signed).

This is a product without a single fault, available at the lowest price possible. The book was made as a reaction to both the trend of decreasing booksales and the trend of increasing expectations from audiences.

Published by Elisabeth Tonnard, Leerdam, April 2012.

The book’s first edition was sold out on the day of its release. A second edition became available in June 2012. It too was limited to 100 copies, neither numbered nor signed, but all made to perfection and available at the price of €0. Order the book by sending me an email, and note that it will not be possible to buy more than one copy. If you would like to order more copies or prefer to obtain copies of the first edition, follow this link to the German site of Ebay, where artist Joachim Schmid is occasionally offering for sale the first edition copies he bought immediately after the launch of the book (note the auctions are not always up).

The book is included in the collections of Erfgoedbibliotheek Hendrik Conscience (Antwerp), the International Center of Photography (NY) and the Tate Library (London) where you can go and attempt to see it. The book was shortlisted in the 2013 Artists’ Books of the Moment Award, Art Gallery of York University, Canada.

[…] In order to shed some light on the nebulous history of The Invisible Book, a set of visible postcards was published in August 2013. From an early discussion about the book in 1654, to Robert Walser’s sterling 1925 review and Diane Simpson’s legendary marathon reading in 1980, discover some of the highlights in the book’s history through this set of six cards. The set is priced at €5 plus shipping and available in my webshop.

Never Taken As Read

Richard Marshall, “No Thing,” 3:AM Magazine 29 March 2013

. . . Dworkin hopes that through erasure writing can be recovered by attending to its essential detritus, its material media and its event. He suggests this retrieval comes by a palimpsest enacting a “double play of concealment and revelation”, a way of obstructing to make something visible. Andrew Gallix writes that “Words become visible; the bloody things keep getting in the way. From this perspective, the literary is what can never be taken as read”. . . .



Jacques Cégeste, in Jean Cocteau’s film Orpheus (1949), is a young writer who has published his first poems in a journal called Nudisme, which is made up of blank pages.

Orphée (extract from film)

Un ancien poète est attablé à un bar, en compagnie de jeunes poètes.

ancien poète, s’adressant à Orphée
Asseyez-vous une minute.

les jeunes poètes, à l’ancien poète
Vous êtes fou !
Ils se lèvent et s’en vont

Je fais le vide…

ancien poète

Vous êtes venu vous mettre dans la gueule du loup.


Je tenais à me rendre compte…

ancien poète
Qu’est-ce que vous boirez ?

Rien merci. J’ai bu. C’était plutôt amer…
Vous avez du courage de m’adresser la parole.

ancien poète
Oh moi ! Je ne suis plus dans la lutte ! J’ai arrêté d’écrire à vingt ans : je n’apportais rien de neuf ! On respecte mon silence…


Ils estiment sans doute que je n’apporte rien de neuf, et qu’un poète, ne doit pas être trop célèbre…

ancien poète
Ils ne vous aiment pas beaucoup.

Dîtes plutôt qu’ils me haïssent.
Quel est ce jeune ivrogne qui vient de me traiter si aimablement et qui n’a pas l’air de mépriser le luxe ?

ancien poète
C’est Jacques Cégeste. Un poète ! Il a dix-huit ans et on l’adore. La princesse qui l’accompagne commandite la revue où il vient de publier ses premiers poèmes.


Cette princesse est fort belle, et fort élégante.

ancien poète
Elle est étrangère et elle ne peut pas se passer de notre milieu. Voilà sa revue.
Il tend à Orphée un album de pages blanches

Je ne vois que des pages blanches !

ancien poète
Celà s’appelle «NUDISME».

Mais c’est ridicule !

ancien poète

Moins ridicule que si ces pages étaient couvertes de textes ridicules ! Aucun excès n’est ridicule !
Orphée, votre plus grave défaut est de savoir jusqu’où on peut aller trop loin.