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– Autumn/Winter 2002

Allen Ruppersberg: Certain of His Books

Susan Morgan

Allen Ruppersberg, Al's Café, 1969. Courtesy of the artist.

Allen Ruppersberg, Al's Café, 1969. Courtesy of the artist.

Every good book is essentially a mystery. What secrets might be revealed between the covers? Whose story is it that is being told? Where are we going? How will it all end? Can we ever really understand? Why is so much so easily forgotten? What is it that we are longing to remember?

In the introductory notes to his university lectures on literature, Vladimir Nabokov described his course as a 'kind of detective investigation'. For Nabokov, the 'good reader' is an active reader, a 're-reader' endowed with an impersonal imagination, memory, a sense of artistic delight and a dictionary. 'In reading a book', he observed, 'we must have time to acquaint ourselves with it. We have no physical organ (as we have the eye in regard to a painting) that takes in the whole picture and then can enjoy its details. But at a second, or third, or fourth reading we do, in a sense, behave towards a book as we do towards a painting.'

There is a series of anecdotes that the visual artist and uncommonly good reader Allen Ruppersberg has told various interviewers when quizzed about his beginnings and how he found his way into the captivating particularities of his own work. Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Ruppersberg was only eight when he decided that he wanted to be an artist. 'I have no idea where this idea came from', he admitted to one arts journalist. 'All I knew was that I needed to get out of where I was, and for some reason I had the feeling that art could be a way to do it.' His childhood afternoons were devoted