Skip to main content

The Nam / Banner, Fiona., 1997

Identifier: CC-33728-35391

  • Staff Only
  • Please navigate to collection organization to place requests.

Scope and Contents

This text of this book, that was written and designed by Fiona Banner, is printed only on the right sided facing pages. There are no paragraph separations of five, continuous film scripts dealing with battleground episodes of the sixties, Viet Nam war. The cover depicts the title in a psychodelic hot pink color on a bright blue background. The book was published in 800 unsigned, soft cover copies and 200 signed, hard cover copies.Nancy Princenthal writing in Art on Paper Vol.4 No.5, 2000 offers the following description. Banner doesn't generally dispense with punctu-ation altogether, but the headlong flow of language in her work, paced like spoken rather than written language and printed without-paragraph breaks, is most easily made sense of by being read aloud. This is as true of relatively short, single-sheet works like the 1999 "This Is It" (a hand-scripted summary, writ-ten from memory, of the movie "The Deer Hunter") as it is of "The Nam" (London, Frith Street Books with funding from the Arts Council of England, 1997), a mammoth book in which Banner narrates six unidentified commercial movies about the Vietnam War (for the record, they are Apocalypse Now, Platoon, The Deer Hunter, Full Metal Jacket, Hamburger Hill, and Born on the Fourth of July). At once har-rowing and numbing, and agonizingly long (all, arguably, true of war itself, and of at least some of these films), the book makes its first (and perhaps biggest) impact as an object. Partly this results from the daunting prospect of jumping into a 1,000- page volume unmarked by chapter headings, page numbers, or paragraph breaks ("The Nam: It's Unreadable!" Banner herself proclaimed in posters advertising her book; also, in an interview, she has laughingly said, "It's a Joycean thing"'). But The Nam's primary status as visual object also suggests positive intention, reflected in design choices rang-ing from its size and weight (heavy, as they said in the 60s) to the blaring cover, in violently clashing red type on warm blue (wild!). On the scale of a single page, it is meant to have a graphic life capa-ble of surviving its literary existence ("It's more like a drawing than a photo because it's got that linear trace of what's seen rather than what's there," Banner said in an interview). And as both sculp-tural and graphic form, The Nan has been featured in three installations that combined stacked books with wallpapered posters in which the title's letters were cut up and reassembled in the most amusing ways ("The What," "The Anal Nation," "The Hey").Any way you slice it, The Nam is overwhelming ---it swamps clear thought as thor-oughly and, in stretches, as engagingly as a dream. Though not based on verbal free asso-ciation, it shares some of the linguistic conventions (for such they are) of automatic writing, and it raises a few useful questions in that regard. Does consciousness really stream? How about the unconscious? What exactly happens to language when mental function is compromised? Psychiatrist Louis Sass, writing against the grain of common understanding, has described "madness" (schizophrenia, mostly) not as an abdication to libidinal urges, but as the result of consciousness in overdrive, a problem as much to do with unregulated thought as disordered affect. "What burgeons out of control here is the process of awareness itself and ... not some lower, instinctual element," Sass says.' As a symptom, such uncontrolled awareness can be seen in the compulsive draftsmanship of famous schizophrenic artists like Adolf Wolfli, who filled every available inch of paper with linear detail; more to the point, it is reflected in the pathologically inert, and prolific, writing of patients like Daniel Paul Schreber, whose acclaimed 1903 text doc-uments his self-described submission to "compulsive thinking." "In Schreber's experi-ence, language is progressively stripped of signifi-cance: words stand forth with a quasi-materiality nearly devoid of all emotional or semantic charge," Writes Sass." The connection is made not to imply that Banner and her colleagues in prolixity intend their work to be read as a species of verbal automa-tism (it isn't), or even that they mean it to flirt with a kind of willfully flipped-out, 60s-ish wigginess (though sometimes it does). But Sass's observations suggest that even the most well-fortified barricade against meaning is vulnerable to understandings both psychological and stylistic. -- Source of annotation: Marvin or Ruth Sackner.


  • Creation: 1997



0 See container summary (1 hard cover book (475 pages)) ; 28.1 x 21.3 x 6.9 cm

Language of Materials

From the Collection: English

Physical Location

shelf alphabeti

Custodial History

The Sackner Archive of Concrete and Visual Poetry, on loan from Ruth and Marvin A. Sackner and the Sackner Family Partnership.


Published: London, England : Frith Street Books. Signed by: Fiona Banner 1999 (b.c.- title page). Nationality of creator: British. General: 200 copies of 1000 total copies. General: Added by: RED; updated by: MARVIN.

Repository Details

Part of the The Ruth and Marvin Sackner Archive of Concrete and Visual Poetry Repository

125 W. Washington St.
Main Library
Iowa City Iowa 52242 United States