Tuesday, April 19, 2011

FUTURE BOOKS (memory might serve us well there)

There are already colleges, such as Chicago State University, planning to be conventional-book free, opting for multi-functional iPad e-text delivery. Some may have converted already, certainly class-by-class. I have been drawing materials for my classes from materials placed online for free and therefore also, usually, unlimited access. This I do as a form of gratitude. The Creative Commons share-alike license is of particular interest (and eligibility for unsolicited praise) for its acknowledgment of both the complexity of authorship and the challenges of trying to make something without any influence (interaction, collaboration) from any sources outside the maker. To make without any influence would be such a simple and probably thin making, stripped of everything, even computers, pens, pencils, ink unless the maker also made these without any contribution from any source other than the maker who, arguably, could not even make anything involving the self the maker may have thought was claimable, but the maker was conceived through interaction, is an outcome of influence, with or without romance.

Though I have a substantial photocopying and printing allowance, I've printed nothing at the university for over five years. We are a paper-free class in our sharing of information strictly digitally, and in public blogs —in support of the Limited Fork Theory tenet of a fundamental collaborative nature of all things (where all refers to what manages, in some form, on some scale to adhere to a tine, not to what falls through tines: an all of slippage, for instance), and in support of my belief that work done by students should not be confined to professor-interaction (where it would receive primarily professor-influence in that impoverished interaction, that in some cases, such as those in which a professor might have expectation [sometimes even assigned expectation —yikes!] of student-parroting of professorial views —sort of intellectually incestuous). While slightly better than professor-only privileged student work interaction, I find even class-only interaction still too limited (especially in certain configurations of peer critique especially within certain workshop configurations); rather this work, as often as possible, should be placed boldly (—class, does not your content represent what you believed at the time of the content's generation? does not your content reveal some accuracy of [some sincerity of] thought at the time of the content's generation?) in public where we practice some minimal responsibility of social and political and intellectual responsibility by not being afraid to claim our (examined) views (—for we've attempted to understand that we've acquired our configurable views based on interactions, influence, exposure, and knowing this, we want an opportunity to reframe these acquisitions whenever some aspects of them do not seem appropriate in certain [temporary] contexts, policies, and circumstances); we accept this responsibility by having to support those views by linking them with other relevant publicly shared information, and by (even more courage is sometimes required here) demonstrating a willingness to accept comments whose content may not agree with our content, but through these ideas interacting, and our placing our ideas where they are available for interaction, we demonstrate not just a willingness, but also an interest in considering other perspectives; we demonstrate flexibility, that thinking and learning are configurable, and that we will risk influence of interaction, risk the marking of experience, knowing that information might reconfigure us, that, I'm happy to say, there is risk of belief changing. (cartoon from cartoon stock.com, where it's available for purchase without the copyright watermark.)
(image of The Library of Babel is from noel.mas at wordpress.)

I certainly appreciate having an entire library in my pocket, something Jorge Luis Borges came close to dreaming of in his stories about infinite library systems: The Book of Sand and The Library of Babel. Please click here to experience an audio iteration of The Library of Babel, and think of what it might mean for all books to have a digital equivalent, for only a single hard copy to have existed for digitization in those cases where a book was not created with digital methods. For years now, most of my work has not had any material reality; most of it does not have the volume of multidimensional space —imagine that! live that! love that! be astonished by that! question that! My work is even more intimate with binary code than it is with my materiality, the library of body.

If you like, go to iTunes Signature Maker where an audio clip can be made from your iTunes music library —a signature based on the parameters of the application, so there's a limit to how many songs may be stacked in the signature, and for now, the signature maker at the link skips any drm-protected music you may have. I have almost 8,000 songs in my iTunes library, so signature maker has generated for me a very partial sonic profile, one that excludes most of my audio files, even excludes some entire genres, but it is a signature of an audible fraction that managed to adhere to the tines of the programmed configuration, so accurate for that audible fraction only. Listen below:

The mass production of paper text-based information as physical objects can be difficult to justify as each item is not unique, and space for them is not infinite (—and I'm a book lover, with as many physical books in my home as I have digital audio files on a single portable drive!). Digital text-based information duplicates well the configuration of the content of conventional physical books. A single digital copy can be, once greed is overcome, experienced by simultaneous users without actual relocation of the materiality, which does not have to exist if the text-based content is created digitally. I feel confident that as methods of experiencing digital content improve, there can be some methods that provide experiences that simulate paper texture better, but perhaps the goal isn't to simulate the already-established reading practice as it exists with the materiality of conventional books. The tine of conventional reading practice in the context of the materiality of conventional books, even as it bifurcates, does so in the influence of the tine. The context of that tine. To help overcome limiting factors of that tine, even as it becomes more subtle without disappearing, it can be useful to try to explore digital possibilities, to use the digital imagination without insisting that it remain loyal to the practice of another medium. Material boundaries and digital boundaries are not the same.

That we might rediscover some benefits of being more selective in what exists materially and what does not is useful to the finite properties of our planet's system, the collaborative, inter-dependent, connected systems of the planet. Perhaps we can begin to rethink conspicuous consumption in all (the all that doesn't get away, not the all of slippage) its material forms. We have configured for ourselves, as we examine what we've made from other angles (that have probably existed whether or not we've been primed to locate, identify, and experience them), a culture of discard. A culture of single use. A throw-away culture, and we've become able, so primed as we are, to extend these flexible configurations to include people, animals, water, air, fossil fuels, food, trees, all other plants, soil, everything in that nature we're also part of (just as we are part of space; we with our planet are in space, traveling space).

Reduction in material production of books could take us to a past future, could revive a practice, at first necessary (before —remember?— Gutenberg and movable type, handwritten text, as there was no other means of viewing and experiencing the content) of book as unique object, essential object, as aesthetic object, made not with the parameters of mass production, but with some variations of the hand interacting with its imprecision as an organic machine that is successful in part because it functions well imperfectly, able to prevail in changing circumstances where perfection's inability to adapt might cause perfection to wither; the handwritten book offers more choice for every aspect: writers writing the material components of book as well as content. (image from medieval literature entry at LACS Knights.) Here's a consequence of digital-reading dominance that I hadn't considered well until reading Chris March's blog where just a few days ago (from the time of this posting) he commented on 41 states having adopted the new Common Core State Standards for English, which do not require cursive writing. A culture of no cursive. Please read this article from ABC about the end of cursive and watch the following video about medical errors that result from the misreading of handwritten letters and numbers:

As for what to do with so much duplication in the materiality of books, why not consider, as one possibility, the aesthetic practice of making altered books? Two of my favorite altered book makers are Jacqueline Rush Lee and Brian Dettmer. Take a look at some examples of their book alterations and autopsies, and dream about a geometric reconfiguration of material content (that's been digitized) in Jorge Luis Borges' Library of Babel and his Book of Sand. Click to experience a conventionally configured Book of Sand PDF.

Jacqueline Rush Lee altered book images from jacqueline rush lee.com

Book Autopsies by Brian Dettmer who, according to a blog post from 2007 on centripedal notion.com, provided the Toomey Tourell Gallery with the following artist statement about his Book Dissections:
In this work I begin with an existing book and seal its edges, creating an enclosed vessel full of unearthed potential. I cut into the cover of the book and dissect through it from the front. I work with knives, tweezers and other surgical tools to carve one page at a time, exposing each page while cutting around ideas and images of interest. Nothing inside the books is relocated or implanted, only removed. Images and ideas are revealed to expose a book’s hidden, fragmented memory. The completed pieces expose new relationships of a book’s internal elements exactly where they have been since their original conception.
The book autopsy images shown here are from centripetal notion.com and from MKisStacked's flickr photostream. To experience much more of Dettmer's work, click on Toomey Tourell to visit the gallery's website.

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