A Book is Technology: An Interview with Tan Lin

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Over the past 15 years, poet, novelist, and filmmaker Tan Lin has been at work creating an "ambient" mode of literature that engages a set of practices including sampling, communal production, and social networks, addressing issues such as relaxed copyright, boredom, plagiarism, and the commodification of attention.

He has written 10 books, most recently Seven Controlled Vocabularies and Obituary 2004. The Joy of Cooking; Insomnia and the Aunt; and HEATH COURSE PAK. His video work has screened at the Yale Art Museum, Artists Space, the Drawing Center, and the Ontological Hysterical Theatre. He is currently finishing work on a novel, OUR FEELINGS WERE MADE BY HAND. He teaches creative writing at New Jersey City University.

We talked by Skype, G-chat, email, phone, and used Google Drive in real-time to talk about the many different uses of technology in his work and what its implications are for the future of literature:


In your books, especially HEATH (plagiarism/outsource) and Seven Controlled Vocabularies and Obituary 2004. The Joy of Cooking, you introduced people to a new idea of what a book of literature can be. For these books, in their various versions and associated events, you incorporated everything from email to Twitter, programming languages to RSS feeds, Google Translate to Post-it notes. What led you to use so many different forms of technology in the creation and publication of a book? How would you define a book?

People forget that a book or codex is a technology. My interest with HEATH and 7CV was to treat the book as a distinct medial platform through which a lot of ancillary information passes, much like a broadcast medium like TV or a narrow-cast medium like Twitter or Tumblr. Reading is information control, just as a metadata tag is a bibliographic control. So I wanted to highlight the book’s medial and time-based underpinnings.

How would you prepare someone who has never read a Tan Lin book to read one of your books?

It’s a little hard to say. I think a book is something consumed slowly over many years—it’s a little like watching a plant reproduce. What are HEATH and 7CV? I’m not sure, but maybe a delayed reading experience that involves Course Paks, marketing departments of publishing houses, seminars at the University of Pennsylvania, RSS feeds, and Post-it notes. And, of course, other books—with 7CV, The Joy of Cooking—and with plagiarism/outsource, blogs that chronicled Heath Ledger’s death. Why insert The Joy of Cooking into the title of 7CV? Because it was the cookbook my family used to become American and because I thought the title would increase Google hits. I consider Google a mode of (loose) autobiography. A book in Google Books, like someone’s search history, isn’t really a book; it’s data connected to other data, and it’s searchable. Reading, like autobiography, is a subset of a search function...

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The Web That Can't Wait

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Moyra Davey, from the exhibition Spleen. Indolence. Torpor. Ill-humour, (Murray Guy


One of my earliest memories is getting hit in the face by a book. I was two; we had just moved to Dubai, and were staying with another family for the first few weeks. While we were playing, their younger son threw his book at me. It cut open the thin skin below my right eye, just above the line now demarcated by insomnia’s purplish bruisings. I remember only fragmented flashes. The green Small World Library hardback with Goofy on its cover, the tears, and the blood—so much blood that the book retained a rusty stain on the spine. 

The scar has since stretched and faded to a gathered curve, barely discernible to the touch and perceptible only if you know where to look. As I grew, I accrued many other scars, each with its own story, but this one remained special: my own facial bookmark. Like a tribal mark or that left arm vaccine scar that quietly signifies which global sphere you’re from, I had been struck by the weight of a book

And read I did, as if to fill up this hole that the book had gouged in my face—compulsively and voraciously, and at every snatched moment I could. Yet Dubai’s public library system was anaemic at best, and its bookstores, with their politely aligned new titles, antiseptic. Summer visits to India became all the more rarified as a result. Here, finally, pavements were hedged with booksellers, and inside, up rickety staircases and under the eye of equally rickety old men, were shelves heaving with books. These bookstores smelled like the ones I had read about: all heady with the intoxicating lignin of tomes gone to seed, mixed in with that slightly musty dampness unique to monsoon season.

Even in this bibliophilic paradise, however, lurked a sense of spoilage, insistently asserting itself like the background static of an AC. No matter how greedily I read and reread, I could never hope to possibly open—let alone own—even a fraction of the books I saw. And that’s to say nothing of all the books I had never even heard of, but was still painfully aware were out there. 

Later on, college would highlight in relief just how much I hadn’t read. Each semester I took far more courses than I could legitimately handle, and reading became consumptive instead of submersive. It became good enough to quickly read each text just once; a slower savouring could come later. On visits home, I would fill my suitcase with that semester’s texts in hopes of rereading them—properly, this time—but they always remained in accusative stacks on the floor, neglected in favour of my childhood favorites. As much as I wanted to build a library and surround myself with books, NYC storage concerns colluded with a sense of self-exhorted acceleration to shift my primary reading format from books, to PDFs, to Twitter and tabbed browsing.

Here, again, was that same urgency transposed from page to screen. Do you know the feeling? That sharp, almost adrenal jolt when you open just one more tab and all the favicons disappear to give you a segmented line of characters? You can’t increase your screen resolution much more, but keep the pages open, just on the off chance that you might actually read them. Perhaps you quickly scan in order to close a tab, yet find yourself clicking on “History” just moments later, just in case you missed something. Perhaps you feel guilty about not giving each piece the undivided attention you once lavished upon your books, but often, just knowing the dust jacket-like gist seems to be enough. You consider developing an Instapaper habit, but don’t trust that you will ever train yourself to go back, sit down, and read them at leisure. Because should you manage the impossible, and find time to actually read them after the fact, won’t it be too late? Won’t the conversation have moved on?

This kind of pearl clutching over time poverty and the whirling hyperkineticism of the Web is nothing new. A few decades into the Internet, the browser has become cemented as the new battleground. At face, debates about the experience of reading online rest on a collective nostalgia for the book as an aesthetic object. What’s really at stake is the practice of reading itself: when, where, and on whose platform...

 

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Exploring Bludgeoned Subjectivity: Talking to Chris Kraus

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Chris Kraus, author of I Love Dick, Aliens & Anorexia, Video Green, among other titles; writes novels, criticism, and essays fluently addressing a range of subjects from from film to philosophy. Her forthcoming novel Summer of Hate is a love story that investigates recent American history all too eager to be forgotten on its own. We talked about her new book, its relation to other facets of her work, and other ideas.

 

Giampaolo Bianconi: Let's begin by talking about the beginning of your new book, Summer of Hate. It’s very different in tone from the rest of the book, very thrilling in its combination of sex, money, and fear.

Chris Kraus: The first two chapters set up each character’s situation before they meet—first Catt and then Paul. Catt is immersed in terror and flight: sex, murder, and delusional thinking. She’s panicked, hysterical. When she finally lands in Albuquerque in the third chapter, she re-enters real life. The movement of time changes once she gets there.  The book settles into a more normal, real-life progression. She’s driven into the story by her delirium. Paul enters the story with remorse, fear and shame. When they meet, the story continues on a different plateau.

GB: In relation to their meeting, I was struck by the fact that before Paul meets Catt he’s totally lost. Their meeting is so unexpected, and he’s so isolated and his possibility of interaction and collision is so small—especially in terms of their class differences.

CK: Right, it’s so farfetched. But given where she’s coming from, is it any more farfetched than meeting these lunatics online? She takes herself out of this delusional world and lands someplace else, where pretty much anything can happen. For Paul their meeting is improbable, but he’s already so far off the grid. This happens in life all the time! When people take themselves out of their normal, expected routines, other things can happen, and that’s what happens to these two.

GB: In one of your previous books, I Love Dick, there’s some discussion of the creation of a hybrid form of fiction and cultural criticism. Summer of Hate is a novel, but it fills a void in contemporary discussion about the incarceration industry.

CK: Yes … In I Love Dick, Dick has been charged with creating a new MFA program along those lines.  “Hybridity” was one of the funding buzzwords at that time.  But really, that is the definition of literature. If you look back to the great texts over the centuries, they’re hybrid forms of fiction and criticism. The great adventure stories: Moby DickRobinson CrusoeMoll Flanders, and then Balzac’s novels, the list goes on. The definition of literary fiction has become so incredibly narrow: domestic dramas based on the romantic and career ambitions within the upper middle class, but it wasn’t always that way. The agenda of fiction used to be to describe the whole world.

GB: The world that you describe in Summer of Hate is so regularly overlooked, not only in fiction but also in art and other forms of cultural production.

CK: It’s true; it’s not very sexy. Narrative hinges on subjectivity, and we’re accustomed to a certain kind of subjectivity...

 

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The Piracy Project at Printed Matter Aug 17-18

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A pirated Vargas Llosa novel bought in Lima, Peru in 2010, that went on sale a week before the official version arrived in bookshops.


On Aug 17th at Printed Matter in New York, The Piracy Project is holding a panel selecting books from the HELP/LESS exhibition to include in their collection, along with Rhizome editor Joanne McNeil, Sergio Muñoz Sarmiento (Clancco), David Senior (MoMA Library), and Anthony Huberman from the Artist's Institute. The following day, they will host a workshop making copies of the books selected to go back to their library in London:

The Piracy Project (Andrea Francke & AND Publishing) will host a panel discussion and book pirating session on August 17th, 6-8, and Saturday August 18th, 3-7PM, respectively.

In a public presentation/discussion, Andrea Francke and Eva Marie Weinmayr will introduce The Piracy Project. Panelists Joanne McNeil (Rhizome), Sergio Muñoz Sarmiento (Clancco) and David Senior (MoMA Library) and will present a selection of books from the exhibition that they would like to see inducted into the Piracy Project library, negotiating concepts of originality, copying, moral issues and taste as they defend their selections. At the end of the conversation, 3 books will be chosen as the winners.

On the following day, Saturday, August 18th, Eva and Andrea will make copies of the winning books to bring back to London to add to their collection. Anyone who would like to help us in the process of making the books is invited to join and find out more about the project.

 

right: No se lo digas a nadie by Jaime Bayly; left pirated copy with two extra chapters added by an anonymous writer. 


Check out the essay The Piracy Project contributed to Rhizome last spring, The Impermanent Book:

In the context of the Piracy Project, which we initiated ...

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The Chameleonic Impulse

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Camouflage by Andy Warhol (1986)

Camouflage is indeed a form of magic --it encompasses misdirection, illusion, the interrogation of issues of completion or incompletion of the object; but beyond these matters (that form the infrastructural support of magic), camouflage also asks us to participate in the psychology of the hunter and the hunted, to examine the structures of control and influence that pin down the prey, that show the hunted how being fascinated can renegotiate the system of authority from the posture of the unarmed. — Tony Conrad

Conrad has a personal connection to camouflage technology, as his father was involved in the design of the U.S. Navy’s dazzle camouflage technique. His point, to a certain extent, is that camouflage determines a relationship within the world: it creates a form of perception as much as it seeks to abolish the very possibility of perception. If camouflage is designed as a facilitator of invisibility, it also retains a contradictory status as something admirable, recognizable, and even bold. Far from generic or free of association, camouflage is loud, communicates multitudes, and is frequently invoked in discussions of art ranging from Cubism to Warhol. 

Still, camouflage is best known as a military technology of concealment, and it’s an effective one. From what or whom, though, does camouflage conceal? Hide and Seek: Camouflage, Photography, and the Media of Reconnaissance, Hanna Rose Shell’s recent book concerning the history of camouflage, traces the development of this recognizable form of hiding and reveals the expanse of impulses behind its development. As opposed to the social-psychological relationships created by camouflage, Shell focuses on camouflage’s relationship to popular and military technologies of reconnaissance and detection in the 20th century. While countless studies proliferate concerning the ontology of filmic and photographic images, Shell’s follows the specific thread of camouflage in tandem to those developments. Rather than focus only on camouflage as an attempt to blend into a physical environment, Shell emphasizes camouflage’s consciousness of visual technology since its emergence in World War I, when aircrafts were first widely used as reconnaissance tools and eventually refined as bombing machines. Previous wars had utilized human eyes to scout enemy positions, but as soldiers on the ground saw planes with affixed cameras flying overhead, camouflage became a nifty form of concealment within the frame of the photograph.

Embedded in this discussion is photography’s transformation of society’s understanding of temporality. Abbott Thayer, an early and controversial analyst of concealment strategies utilized by birds and other animals, focused his thinking on the crucial moment of hiding. Natural camouflage techniques, Thayer suggested, were not designed to keep animals constantly hidden, but rather allowed environmental blending during moments when an animal needed to be made invisible. Former President Teddy Roosevelt pointed to the flaws in Thayer’s thinking by suggesting that no Zebra stood still by their watering hole waiting to be unseen. While Thayer’s attitude towards the momentous may have been shortsighted for a discussion of the animal kingdom, it was undoubtedly prophetic for the development of military camouflage and it’s relationship to photographic technology, as illustrated by the similarity between Thayer’s crucial moment of concealment and Henri-Cartier Bresson’s influential photographic theory of the decisive moment.

Author Hanna Rose Shell in camouflage (source)

In World War Two, as photography took its rightful place as the ultimate intelligence-gathering tool, film was becoming increasingly popular as a means of training personnel, and the cinematic model of spectatorship itself became a training ground for pure, invisible perceptive practice.

 

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Jed Martin's Charmed Career

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Michel Houllebecq's novel The Map and the Territory (La carte et le territoire) is a future art history of the French artist Jed Martin. Martin's output is both limited and clinical: he desires, above all, to "give an objective description of the world" (27), and he creates a body of work consisting of four series made throughout his life.

Aside from the drawings produced in his youth, Martin’s first work was the series “Three Hundred Photos of Hardware.” “Avoiding emphasis on the shininess of the metals and the menacing nature of the forms, Jed had used a neutral lighting, with few contrasts, and photographed articles of hardware against a background of mid-gray velvet. Nuts, bolts, and adjusting knobs appeared like so many jewels, gleaming discreetly” (26). The series appears to be an extension of a previous project, undertaken in his high school bedroom with mostly natural light, to create “an exhaustive catalogue of the objects of human manufacturing in the Industrial Age” (20). Martin has difficulty articulating his project, and his artist's statement emphasizes the advanced aluminum engineering responsible for creating most industrial objects. It's the work Andreas Gursky would have made taking pictures of single objects.

While claiming to be done with photography, Martin’s next series returns to his technical facility with the medium. Enthralled by the beauty of Michelin Departments road maps, Martin experiences a mild attack of Stendhal syndrome after unfolding a map of the Creuse and Haute-Vienne: “This map was sublime. Overcome, he began to tremble in front of the food display. Never had he contemplated an object as magnificent, as rich in emotion and meaning” (28). The Michelin series consisted of over eight hundred photographs and was responsible for Martin’s first major show, sponsored by Michelin, titled “THE MAP IS MORE INTERESTING THAN THE TERRITORY.”

Martin’s work fits easily into a certain popular narrative of contemporary art: conceptual enough to make critics giddy, effortless enough to affirm a naysayer’s belief in the overwhelming bullshit of the gallery, and relevant without being topical. Most importantly, it's never outside complex contemporary fiscal systems: art remains a good investment. These are precisely the qualities them so believable as artworks, so easy to imagine. It is what separates the novel so completely from other narratives of faux-artworks, with their gaudy, impossibly transcendent works of beauty.

David Hockney, Mr. and Mrs. Clark Percy (1970)

Martin’s next aesthetic endeavor took him into the world of painting: his collection of sixty-five oil paintings, collectively known as the “Professions” series, depicted the various modes of employ which form a functioning society. Martin creates another taxonomy, this time a human taxonomy: with subjects ranging from Maya Dubois, Remote Maintenance Assistant to Bill Gates and Steve Jobs Discussing the Future of Information Technology (subtitled The Conversation at Palo Alto). The portrait of Gates and Jobs is considered his most essential work: Martin gives “a magical glow to the forests of California pine descending toward the sea” (72). (Eventually, Steve Jobs up bought the painting for $2 million).

The Chinese essayist Wong Fu Xin maintains that Martin’s paintings from this period, which can be broken into the Series of Simple Professions and the Series of Business Compositions, represent the minimum number of professions required to recreate the productive conditions of society: they “give a relational and dialectical image of the functioning of the economy as a whole” (73). When unable to complete the final painting of the series, Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons Dividing Up the Art Market, Martin destroyed it. His final painting is one of Houellebecq, which he presents to the writer as a gift.

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Screen. Image. Text.

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Tauba Auerbach, RGB Colorspace Atlas. (2011)

I once heard Leon Botstein, the President of Bard College, compare books to stairs. “They’ve invented the elevator,” he said, “but sometimes you still walk up.” There are countless discussions on the future of the book—they are picked up in magazine feature articles, in trade conferences, and in academic roundtables—and in all of these, the future of the printed word seems certain: in a generation or two, print will become obsolete. In this age of changing habits, if print is the stairs and screens the elevator, then what could the escalator be?

This moment in time, and the awareness of the possibilities electronic publishing grant, affect the manner in which we relate to texts in a way that is under constant scrutiny. But images prove to be a different problem. The separation between text and images has a long history. In fact, images have posed a challenge for publishers from the early days of print—be it the cost of printing them; the payments for illustrators, photographers, and designers; or simply contextualizing the images and their relation to the text—but they have become crucial to our understanding of texts. When the Illustrated London News, the world’s first illustrated weekly newspaper, began publishing in 1842, the relationship between the text and the engraved images in the paper was such a novelty that it took the weekly about a decade to stake a hold in that era’s news distribution channels. Once it did, it became one of the most widely circulated newspapers in Victorian Britain. The marriage of text and the engraved image marked a new level of fluency in communication via images, which does away with staples of early print day, even though the separation between image and text lasted for many decades later, and can still be traced today. (Think, for example, of the plate pages, where color images were glued onto the paper, so that the book or magazine would be printed in black and white, adding the color pages later in a way that saves money on printing, but also generates a wholly different relationship with images. These are often associated with encyclopedias, but a large number of artist’s monographs retained this design even after color printing became widely accessible, creating the odd text-image relationship where an artwork is described to the most minute detail, with a comment in parenthesis directing the reader to “color plate 3,” where the mentioned piece could be seen in glossy print.)

The generations to come of age in the days of digital publishing and reading on screens have a much more complicated relationship with images. The human eye-brain system is capable of reading a large number of high quality images in a matter of split seconds, and this, alongside the hand-eye coordination—think about the pleasure of a touch screen versus inky newspaper pages—is rapidly developing to mirror our changing habits of consuming information. So much so that the contemporary heightened sensitivity to the way we read images can lead to an ability to, at times, ignore the quality of the images when inserted into a text, the way our brain glides over a typo in the flow of reading. The way we read images online is only one thing these magazines deal with in the process of publishing, but it is surely an element that dictates a large portion of the reading experience of these publications.

 

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A Conversation with Jonathan Lethem

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Jesse England, E-Book backup (ongoing)

 

In 2007, novelist Jonathan Lethem published an essay in Harper's ending with a grand reveal: "every line I  stole, warped, and cobbled together." The patchwork includes dozens of sources — part of a Steve Erickson novel, something from a Pitchfork review, a quote from an interview with Rick Prelinger. Sandra Day O'Connor and Ralph Waldo Emerson are stitched in too.  

The Ecstasy of Influence, now the title of his recent collection of writings, often addresses the process of integrating and "cobbling together" ideas and culture to make something new. Yet, stories Lethem relates of hosting "mailing parties" for the Philip K Dick Society or working in a bookstore seem like snapshots from pre-digital age. Recently I talked with the author about our rapidly dematerializing culture as well as appropriation as an art practice:

 


 

JM:  Have you ever tried to imagine what kind of career path you would have had without a culture of physical objects?

JL: It’s really interesting because I do think of the procedural experience of having to dig, having to find out what, let’s say, all of those names in the back of Greil Marcus’ “Stranded” were. Now when I read that collection, I see it put together like his esoteric nod to the history of rock and roll and like 80 percent of it was terra incognita. I didn’t know the names at all, and I couldn’t just go skimming around and get a little taste. I had to make each and every one of those things that compelled me —because of the name or his description — a search. I’d have to go find some broken down piece of media, some old vinyl or something, and you know, the delay that inserts, the relationship to time. I spent a lot of time thinking about a culture that wasn’t right at hand.

I might envision a given song or movie for five or ten years before I’d lay hands on it at times, and that creates this sort of personal, fictional vision. It’s like having a book unread on your shelf and just staring at the jacket or the title or what you’ve heard about it, and having it emanating all this promise. Books I guess, can still do that, but it’s a really peculiar thing for me to think about how I would relate differently.

I mean, I was advantaged. I grew up in New York City. Compared to other versions of access in our generation, I had great access. My parents had a good record collection and really interesting books on the shelves and pointed me to them. There was no quarantine. I was in New York City and there were great repertory houses and I started going to them when I was 14 or 15 years old, just gobbling down some curators’ ideas of cinema. I was getting all these versions of importance or interest out of the obscure past or out of other national cinemas. So in that way, it was like I was surrounded. I didn't even think of myself as deprived.

The strange thing that the question sets up is an image of me, or anyone my age, as somehow suffering from a drought. But I wouldn't have, of course, had the comparison. I wouldn't have had any notion that I was lacking materials. I still had to make really complicated priorities for myself because there was so much that seemed so compelling, potentially compelling. And it wasn't too hard to get a hold of it. But I did, in retrospect I did have these kinds of limits and always a physical relationship — a movie theater that smelled a certain way. What it was to go to the Thalia and watch Bunuel films. It's associated for me with the feeling of that lobby and the strange loneliness in that place on a Thursday afternoon and the other people who would be there present or the kinds of record stores where I would at look at things or the bookstores and the way the objects themselves felt and became talismanic. And the way my own room was changing if I brought these things! It wasn't like I could close the computer and it would all go away. It was like I was changing my body practically. To just start accruing all this stuff like armor, like an exoskeleton. 

JM: I'm sure your consumption of culture now is different though. Do you have a Kindle or an iPad? Are you an ebook reader? I'm sure you have MP3s, at least.

JL: I have a lot of MP3s! I'm going to qualify this in a number of different ways. I've always been a very late adopter. I mean even MP3s, I didn't have them after other people I knew did. Something about me always sort of wants them to become a little more part of the world. It's like I need to believe in them by seeing people form attachments before I make that move. I've got a friend who teases me because he remembers me saying that I would probably never bother with email. I knew a few people who were doing it and it just didn't seem that appealing to me. Now I'm ten years into an unbelievable promiscuous emailing binge that will never end. So I've been a late adopter a lot of times with tech. I wrote novels on an electric typewriter after it was possible to begin writing prose on computers. I just wasn't quite there. I wasn't ready to make a move from something that felt very important and material and personal to me. So who knows what I might do later on, but I've never read anything on a Kindle and I haven't even really had an iPad or a Kindle in my hands. The nearest I've been has been in the seat beside me in an airplane when I feel smug because they have to stop reading when the announcement goes out and my book is still open.

I think as a writer about the shape and heft of a book. And so I think the reason I am attached to reading them is I’m writing into that form. For better or worse, I still think of where physically my hands would be turning the pages. Feeling, oh, maybe now I’m ten pages from the end. And so some of those things are sacrificed in the Kindle.

Also, the kind of doubling back that I do as a reader seems very fundamental to pages. I’ll keep my finger sometimes even three or four pages width in two places in a book. Because I’m interested in doing a doubling. It’s very much a part of the physical object to me....

 

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The Impermanent Book

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A few months ago Jonathan Franzen, author of The Corrections and Freedom, was quoted by The Telegraph from his Cartagena’s Hay Festival presentation:

“Maybe nobody will care about printed books 50 years from now, but I do. When I read a book, I’m handling a specific object in a specific time and place. The fact that when I take the book off the shelf it still says the same thing - that’s reassuring… and he goes on … Someone worked really hard to make the language just right, just the way they wanted it. They were so sure of it that they printed it in ink, on paper. A screen always feels like we could delete that, change that, move it around. So for a literature-crazed person like me, it’s just not permanent enough.” 

His speech raised heated discussions in newspaper columns and on the internet. The focus was mainly on defending technology and e-books as a viable and improved evolution, and on how he was being retrograde.  What was missing from the discourse was the fact that technology has also violently altered printed books in a way from which there is no return. We are so disconnected from the means of production that nobody seems to be aware that books are produced very differently then they were 100 years ago. Digital files are exchanged between writers, publishers and printers all over the world.

In the context of the Piracy Project, which we initiated in London in 2010, we discovered cases, which not only took control over the object, but over the content. Inspired by Daniel Alarcon's article in Granta magazine, “Life Among Pirates”, we traveled to Peru and discovered, for instance, a pirated version of Jaime Bayly’s novel No se lo digas a nadie with two extra chapters added. This physical object may look obviously pirated to a trained eye but could easily pass as the original if you were not looking for differences. The extra chapters are good, good enough to pass undetected by readers. 

right: No se lo digas a nadie by Jaime Bayly; left pirated copy with two extra chapters added by an anonymous writer. Bought in Lima Peru, The Piracy Collection

These books are sold in small markets, bookshops or by street vendors at traffic crossings. We had to buy several books and to compare page by page until we found a book with extra content. Asking the vendors for help didn’t work. They were quite offended with the insinuation that they carried modified books. Buyers don’t want to read a book by an anonymous author when they are buying Mario Vargas Llosa.  

Friends in Peru seemed extremely surprised to see an altered book. The same type of trust that Franzen had applied to printed books was broken. What have they been reading? According to popular literary theory, when reading a book we become joint authors by virtue of subjectively interpreting and shifting the context through our own personal sets of experience. In this sense, it might be very difficult to realize, in discussion with others, whether or not the book you just read has been altered. And then what happens when that seed of distrust is planted in your head? 

 

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Excerpt from "Take This Book: The People's Library at Occupy Wall Street"

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An excerpt from Take This Book: The People's Library at Occupy Wall Street, an extended essay by Melissa Gira Grant, forthcoming in print, epub, and as a Kindle single. Available to support on Kickstarter.

Instagram Photo by Melissa Gira Grant

Remove everything but the books. The librarians who were most versed in direct-action tactics—from participating in various peaceful and spirited disruptions, at street protests against the Republican National Convention in New York in 2004, or while bringing cheer to Wall Street police barricades as a roving brass band—had worked out a plan for what they would do in case of a raid. Whoever was in the library would grab the laptops, the archives, the reference section—countless signed editions among them—and ferry them to safety. 

"Philosophically," Jaime, one of the librarians, said, "the books stay with the occupation."

There had been a dry run, too, the night the Occupiers prepared for the city to evict them. On October 13, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that Brookfield Properties, which legally owned the park, wanted to clean Zuccotti, and the Occupiers anticipated that the mayor would also send in the New York Police Department to remove them. So the Occupiers took this order both graciously and defiantly: They would clean the park themselves, and early in the morning, when the cops and the cleaners were to arrive, the Occupiers would refuse to leave. Someone posted an invitation to Facebook on the day of the cleanup, calling people to gather before Wall Street's opening bell, and to bring brooms and mops and pails. All day, wearing ponchos and latex gloves, Occupiers scrubbed the stone steps of Zuccotti, swept the grounds, and straightened their camp's stations. As night fell, some of the camp's infrastructure was 

 

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