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A Humument: A Treated Victorian Novel

4.34  ·  Rating details ·  800 ratings  ·  66 reviews
In the mid-1960s, Tom Phillips took a forgotten nineteenth-century novel, W. H. Mallock's A Human Document, and began cutting and pasting the extant text to create something new. The artist writes, 'I plundered, mined and undermined its text to make it yield the ghosts of other possible stories, scenes, poems, erotic incidents and surrealist catastrophes which seemed to lu ...more
Paperback, 384 pages
Published April 1st 2005 by Thames & Hudson (first published October 1st 1980)
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Average rating 4.34  · 
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 ·  800 ratings  ·  66 reviews

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Dec 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is possibly the most beautiful book I own. It may also be one of the most beautiful pieces of art I own. Oh, and, in a strange way, it's a sculpture, as well. I strongly doubt, however, that you will hear an audiobook version of this work. It just doesn't lend itself to auditory appreciation (unless one likes the sound of pages flipping, which is, I must admit, one of the more pleasing sounds to my ears). And describing the work doesn't do it justice at all. This is an artifact that one mus ...more
Paul Bryant
Nov 29, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: people who write in books
The sculptor takes a great lump of marble and chips away and after swearing and downing much alcohol finally the statue that was hiding in the marble is revealed. Tom Phillips starts off with an obscure Victorian novel called A Human Document by W H Mallock (read it? no, no one has) and he chops this and that away from every page, by overpainting, blanking out etc etc - until the pages look like this

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or this

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and a million more variations. The fanatical attention Tom Phill
May 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Like most projects that end up lasting half a lifetime, this started out as idle play at the fringe of my work and preoccupations. I had read an interview with William S. Burroughs (Paris Review, 1965) and, as a result, had played with the 'cut up' technique, making my own variant (the columnedge poem) from current copies of the New Statesman. It seemed a good idea to push these devices into more ambitious service.
I made a rule; that the first (coherent) book I could find for threepence (i.e. 1¼
MJ Nicholls
May 05, 2010 rated it really liked it
An abstract, luxurious visual feast, an enduring marriage of text and art.
Dec 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book so much that upon finishing it, I immediately bought a copy. This is not a book to read only in a linear way (although that certainly works, following a story about a fictional character named Bill Toge) but also to dip into continually.

Is it primarily an art book or poetry? Who cares? Each page is lovely to look at and often equally lovely to read. Humument is an example of erasure or found poetry. Phillips took an old, not intrinsically interesting, Victorian novel. He then p
Jul 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I was reluctant when I first heard about this book, but read it anyway at my teacher's recommendation. It was a really nice surprise and I can see why some people say it's the book that comes closest to a work of art.
It reads like a blank verse poem. Some of the associations of words and ideas were so unexpected and beautiful, I ended up smilling like an idiot on my journey home.
And it seems this is a work in progress, as the author keeps adding other pages with every new edition published.

 photo WP_20150701_14_11_41_Pro.jpg
Sep 13, 2007 rated it really liked it
Interesting book, this guy took a Victorian novel and painted on every page. He left some words visible on some pages, didn't leave any visible on other pages, and basically turned this completely forgettable novel into art. I love it.
Karas Jim
Mar 18, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Poor effort, when it comes to literature (only decision-making concerning words linked could arguably be intriguing).
This is more like a string of paintings trying to say a story, only there are 300+ of them one after the other, and it is not even a coherent story.
I found it tiresome and incomprehensible as a book. Even though the concept may sound good at first, a lack of proper narrative structure renders it inhospitable to someone who wants to read a book.
This is not a "book".
Apr 11, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Does one really read this? Well, certainly not the way one reads anything else. Ton Phillips has built his life's work around W. H. Mallock's discardable Victorian novel A Human Document. Phillips has created and recreated his Humument (mine's the 4th edition--each different) using Mallock's text as his canvass. He draws, sketches, and paints over the pages of the text, creating his own text through excision. Phillips' words then are only those words or parts of words in Mallock's text he choose ...more
When I first stumbled across this in the library I was horrified at the thought of doing such things to a book (yes I am that much of a geek, it's okay I'm fine with this) but then I took a moment to read the story behind how and why Phillips did so and I must say I am a convert (and pleased that he has kept the original unscathed!). He has managed to breathe new life into an old work that would otherwise have been left forgotten on dusty shelves and in doing so has opened up a whole new genre o ...more
Eddie Watkins
Jun 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
This really is a beautiful work of art and endless mind/eye stimulator and I finally have my own copy.
Oct 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A treated Victorian novel, an exercise in artistry and perhaps the most captivating work of art I've ever encountered.
May 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: own
This is a great book if you are into collage art and want some inspiration.
Beth Wisniewski
Jan 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely LOVED this book! It was beautifully illustrated and the poems were unique, funny, and sometimes sad. As usual, Allie, you've recommended a book I loved! Thanks!! :)
Philip Carlsen
Apr 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
It may have been twenty years ago that I bought my copy of Tom Phillips’s A HUMUMENT. This postmodern objet d’art had been a decades-long project of his. Using as his source material the 1892 edition of the Victorian novel “A Human Document” by W.H. Mallock, Phillips scrupulously examined the text, page by page, for its hidden potential, then painted over most of the words, leaving a found text that relates fragments of the story of his found character, Bill Toge, whose name crops up whenever th ...more
David Eves
Sep 19, 2017 rated it liked it
Generally, I find blackout poetry a bit gimmicky - just sort of cut and paste shenanigans, really. This one was saved by the sheer scope of its project: take an entire Victorian novel, spend decades finding little nuggets of poetry in each page, painting over everything else, then rearranging the pages into some sort of thematic order.

For example:

A few dozen of the poem-pages struck me as pretty bland and uninspired, and were a bit of a drudge to get thro
Natty Peterkin
Feb 20, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An inspiring and impressively huge art project. My 4 star rating is based on this book as a piece of artwork and imaginative exploration as opposed to a piece of literature. The actual story you can read in this book is often incomprehensible, sometimes boring, repetitive or even childish, with the exception of an odd page that is actually poetic – but the real story in this book is to be found in the process of its creation, and appreciation of all the inventive ways Phillips has found to subve ...more
Apr 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A Forgotten Victorian Work Undermined and Subverted into joyous smut. A very human document made from a prudish text. This is a passion and project of love, and not an interesting failure but a joyous success.

Very rarely does the Cut-Up technique work, imo. I can only think of it with Burroughs, Bowie, Radiohead and Grant Morrison where it worked. Maybe that's what Eno did as well. Not sure.

But this is a triumph of found and re-purposed art. Truly inspiring stuff.

Kailyn Kausen
I don't know how to rate this book, mostly because I have basically no idea what is going on. If you like erotic(?) texts where you have to guess that is what is being said, go for this. Also, if you like stuff you have to work for, I highly recommend.
After hearing so much about this book from the altered art world, I was woefully disappointed. While some of the layouts themselves were aesthetically interesting, the text itself was banal at best. Don't waste your time with this volume; make your own altered book instead.
Rebecca Renea
Feb 18, 2019 rated it it was ok
I thought I was ordering the original art by Mallock but mistakenly ordered this instead. I'm intrigued to see what Mallock's is like... as an artist (one dealing with dictionary pages) I thought I would love this but I didn't for some reason.. I think it was too "out there" for me unfortunately.
Apr 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A beautiful, varied, at times incredibly horny accomplishment. It avoids the pitfalls of self-importance while mixing in delightful pages of whimsy and aching beauty.

Never boring, always interesting, each page stands on its own but together they form a unique masterpiece.
Meg Gee
Jan 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
Inconsistent but an intriguing project. I would be interested to look at earlier editions to compare. A must for anyone who enjoys erasure.
Jul 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Love this funky book made from altering a novel...fabulous art
Oct 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: lapl, art-books, poetry
(3rd edition) This is absolutely gorgeous, lush with imagery, and just a whirlwind of poetry. It's prompting me to think about poetry in a new way.
DeeDee Crawford
This book is very interesting, and I would never have picked it up had I not been assigned it for class. There were some beautiful lines, and I love how it was created. However (and unfortunately) I never got into the rhythm of how to actually read this book, so more than half of it made no sense to me whatsoever.
Dane Cobain
Apr 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Ever since I started, I’ve been looking forward to reviewing this book, because it’s one of the highlights of my entire collection. This is Tom Phillips’ ‘Human Document‘, a ‘treated Victorian novel‘ which is basically a book within a book.

See, Phillips picked up an old Victorian novel and painted over it, so that some of the words are still visible but the entire meaning of the book has changed. It’s an impressive undertaking and it must have taken him forever, because the
Nov 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I think I might never be done reading this book, but technically I have seen every page, so. Each page is so densely rich, even when almost starkly pared down, that I know I will come back to this again and again and again, whenever I want to experience the expansiveness of creative possibility. (Seriously, every freaking page is, well, art.) It is a book of possibles. Also, I want to own every edition now, because apparently they're all different? The edition I do have is an iPad app, and as su ...more
Jan 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
A book that makes you want to put it go recreate it! I thoroughly enjoyed this strange, amorphous, obsessive text. And found myself reflected in the reflections: culling the ones that stood out to me and photocopying them to stick on my wall for inspiration. Phillips uses the antiquated text to funny and touching lengths; I enjoyed the Lewis Carroll/e.e. cummings-esque whimsy and creepiness of the romance that enfolds.

A friend of a friend witnessed this book in an exhibit in Paris and
Jun 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"I sing a book of the art that was / of mind art / though I have to hide to reveal. / now read on"

This is quite simply the work of a lifetime. Tom Phillips creates a new work by adding (drawing, painting, and collage) to every single page of a Victorian novel called A Human Document, or after his additions, A Humument. Beyond his discovery / creation of new characters, I really appreciated his use of lines to create new phrases and sentences--lines, which often served as outlines for figures. Co
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