I’m happy with it as a distillation of one portion of the argument and material that’s going into Mechanisms, whose manuscript is nearing completion. Please read and let me know what you think—I’d be grateful for comments as I will be revising through the summer.
Mother Earth Mother Board, a mini-monograph masterpiece of “hacker tourism” by Neil Stephenson in the December 1996 issue:
In which the hacker tourist ventures forth across the wide and wondrous meatspace of three continents, acquainting himself with the customs and dialects of the exotic Manhole Villagers of Thailand, the U-Turn Tunnelers of the Nile Delta, the Cable Nomads of Lan tao Island, the Slack Control Wizards of Chelmsford, the Subterranean Ex-Telegraphers of Cornwall, and other previously unknown and unchronicled folk; also, biographical sketches of the two long-dead Supreme Ninja Hacker Mage Lords of global telecommunications, and other material pertaining to the business and technology of Undersea Fiber-Optic Cables, as well as an account of the laying of the longest wire on Earth, which should not be without interest to the readers of Wired.
Yep, if you followed the link you read that right: page 1 of 56. It’s a whopper. And the photographs, which the electronic version does not include, capture a kind of industrial exoticism that amazingly lives up to the above text. This is a kind of companion to Stephenson’s other major piece of non-fiction, In the Beginning was the Command Line—but it makes that book, which I’ve never loved, seem positively tedious by comparison. It’s also the prequel to Cryptonomicon, which in turn is the prequel to the Baroque Cycle. Anyway, I just replaced my original copy of the issue, which I lost in a move at some point, with one from eBay. Why is this not a classic of digital studies? Anyway, the article, coupled with the introduction to Friedrich Kittler’s Grammophone, Film, Typewriter (which begins with the trenchant pronouncement: Optical fibre networks) will be the opening reading in my graduate seminar on Inscribing Media next spring.
We were awoken at about 5:30 this morning by this. It was the building next door.
Sorry, we were unable to locate document(s) pertaining to your request.
Did you mean: zirconium instead of kirschenbaum?
Saw the Salvador Dalí exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art the other day. He was such a polymath—a much wider range of media and styles on display than the Surrealist greatest hits everyone knows. I was particularly struck by the influence of photography on his work, which in retrospect seems obvious, but he worked with very small brushes to achieve distinctive photorealistic detail—the Basket of Bread (1926) is a milestone here. Like the dream sequence he wrote twenty years later for Hitchcock’s Spellbound (1945), Dalí saw realism rather than abstraction or impressionism as the skeleton key to his phantasmagoria. The sharp line of that wickedly waxed mustache became emblematic.
As I sd to my
friend, because I am
always talking,—John, I
sd, which was not his
name, the darkness sur-
rounds us, what
can we do against
it, or else, shall we &
why not, buy a goddamn big car,
drive, he sd, for
christ’s sake, look
out where yr going.
—In Memorium, Robert Creeley, 1926-2005.
Still Just Writing, a new wordherder to watch.
Lies and Fish. Apparently I bear some responsibility for this.
And last, not a new blog, but new to me: join-the-dots.
Update: Via Palms: augmentation, “Blog of AI-TERP (Applying Information Technologies to Enhance Research Potential), an effort by University of Maryland graduate students and faculty to promote the use of information technology in Political Science research.”
We took a look at some passages in Cyrano de Bergerac’s Voyages to the Moon and the Sun today in the Technologies of Writing seminar. I was particularly struck by this one (as translated by Richard Aldington):
At the opening of the box I found something in metal almost similar to our clocks, filled with an infinite number of little springs and imperceptible machines. It is a book indeed, but a miraculous book without pages or letters; in fine, it is a book to learn from which eyes are useless, only ears are needed. When someone wishes to read he winds up the machine with a large number of all sorts of keys; then he turns the pointer toward the chatper he wishes to hear, and immediately, as if from a man’s mouth or a musical instument, this machine gives out all the distinct and different sounds which serve as the epxression of speech between the noble Moon-dwellers.
When I had reflected on this miraculous invention in book-making I was no longer surprised that the young men of that country possessed more knowledge at sixteen or eighteen than grey-beards in our World. Since they know how to read as soon as they speak, they are never without reading. Indoors, out of doors, in town, travelling, on foot, on horseback, they can have in their pocket or hanging from their saddle-bows as many as thirty of these books, and they have only to wind up a spring to hear a chapter, or several chapters if they are in the mood to hear a whole book. In this way you have continually about you all great men, living or dead, and you hear them viva voce.
Obviously there’s much one can say about the way this anticipates the gramophone, or even books on tape and iPods. The business about juveniles having more information at their disposal than the elders of previous generations sounds especially contemporary. But what really interests me here is that the exercise of re-imagining the book yields up an almost phenomenological definition of what a book is. Note that de Bergerac explicitly jettisons both pages and letters. Clearly you can have a book without them. What is essential, in fact what seems treated with inordinate specificity, is that a book is divisible into chapters. The essence of the book emerges, therefore, as indexical space: “he turns the pointer towards the chapter he wishes to hear.”
Indexical space has been a constant theme this semester, from the way one interacts with a codex with their hands (unlike a scroll which uses the hands to hold it open, a book is free standing and the reader can use their hands for navigation—holding open several pages at once—or else—crucially—the hand can be used for writing). With books also come bookmarks, artificial technologies for multiplying the fingers and the hands, as visualized in this painting by Arcimboldo.
This is the digital book in the most literal sense. More recently, we’ve read about manicules, the representations of the readers’ pointing hand ubiquitous in early modern books (manicules were both drawn and printed—Bill Sherman has been doing fascinating work on these symbols of late, and the observant reader will note that you see them everywhere).
De Bergerac’s book machine is thus very much in keeping with what I’ve learned these last few months about books, bookspace, bodies, and readers. Some similar ideas emerge in a book called The Myth of the Paperless Office (MIT, 2004). The key concept is that of affordances, the authors’ term for the raw, literal, material specificity of particular media—the fact that paper is pliable, for example, or that it is porous and has two sides. (PBS pointed this out in the seminar today: in an era when paper was an expensive and precious commodity—for a while you couldn’t be buried in 17th century England in linens because the rag was wanted for paper making—there are a striking number of documents that survive that are printed only on one side. Why? Because they were disseminated by posting, that is by being affixed to a vertical surface in a public space—an affordance specific to paper.) Compare how coarse the digital screen is in the same dissemination plane in the same kinds of public spaces:
But screens have their affordances too . . .
The question here is not what you see but how you see.