To create his 1970 novel A Humument, British artist Tom Phillips began with W.H. Mallock’s forgotten 1892 novel A Human Document and drew, painted, and collaged over the pages, leaving a few words showing to tell a new, hitherto unrevealed story. For instance, the title arises from Phillips’ deletion of two central syllables in Mallock’s title, and the protagonist, Bill Toge, can appear only when the word “together” or “altogether” arises in Mallock’s original text.
Even this new text is evolving. Phillips has published five editions of the book, in each of which he replaces certain pages; eventually he hopes to replace every page, creating an entirely new work (or an entirely new version of the same work).
“Can we call what Phillips is doing ‘writing’, or would some other term be better?” asked Adam Smyth in the London Review of Books. “What version of authorship or creativity is at work here? A Humument is a reminder that books are inevitably intertextual — they grow out of older texts — and that all writing involves selecting words from a finite pool: what appears to be a constraint, having to work within the walls of an existing novel, in fact dramatises a condition of literature.”
The full text of the 1970 edition is here.