R.B. Kitaj, The Adding Machine, 1972, screenprint on paper, 752 x 549 mm, Tate.
The other week I was roundly defeated by a work of Kitaj's, overwhelmed by his fearsome reading habit and not feeling up to negotiating the dense wall of references he had erected. But the cosmic law of the art-selection system I employ wouldn't let me leave it at, of course. So here is another book-themed work by Kitaj, one of many screenprints he made of book-covers, some, but not this one, collected in a folio under the title 'In Our Time'. It suggests a view of books as both the physical manifestation of circulating ideas, and the means by which they circulate. 'The Adding Machine', for instance, was a play from the '20s, about an accountant replaced by technology before ending up in Heaven undergoing exactly the same ordeal. The social reality of workplace mechanisation, and the romantic ideas about the essential human soul presented in the play are both captured in the totem of the book-cover here. In our time, people have experienced this, it says, and felt and thought this.