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Daniel Rourke (M, 37)
London, UK
Immortal since Dec 18, 2007
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All things would be visibly connected if one could discover at a single glance and in its totality the tracings of an Ariadne’s thread leading thought into its own labyrinth.
- Georges Bataille
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    The Archaeology of The Book
    Project: The Total Library


    Before the printed book there was the book as relic, the book as idol to knowledge. Those who could read dictated to the masses who could not. Books were material conduits to hidden, immaterial territories, placed out of reach of the proletariat – atop the holy pulpit or concealed within the labyrinthine catacombs of the private library – books were of the other, were unreachable.

    For a long time the book’s inaccessibility is what granted it an authority. Instances from the stream of time were made real once admitted to the pages of the book. The performed biblical enumeration was a creative act, forging the words of the Priest into a material truth which the audience could almost reach out and touch, almost but not quite. As Susan Stewart notes:

    “The book stands in tension with history, a tension reproduced in the microcosm of the book itself, where reading takes place in time across marks which have been made in space.” – On Longing, Page 22 – Duke University Press, 1993

    History was true, it had form because it was manifest in the pages of the book. This belief in the formative capacity of the book created a culture of desire. It was thus inevitable that the book, once given a symbolic new life by the ink of the printing press, would find its way into the hands of the masses.

    In time written language became the omnipresent signifier of freedom, of knowledge. The authority of the book was shifted to the word itself. If one could read, one had the authority only previously wielded by the few. Reading was a powerful gesture of self-realisation. The authority was now one’s own. This self resolving revolution came at a time of even greater existential resistance in the West. Martin Luther had placed the power of religion in the hands of the individual. Continental art was developing a fascination with the Earthly human not seen since the time of Aristotle. The book still had encoded within it the authority of the word, only now it was the individual who carried the means to crack that code. Access to the highest of truths was not a privilege, but a right. David Lodge:

    “Phenomena such as memory, the association of ideas in the mind, the causes of emotions and the individual’s sense of self, became of central importance to the speculative thinkers and writers of narrative literature alike... The silence and privacy of the reading experience afforded by books mimicked the silent privacy of individual consciousness.” – Consciousness and the Novel, Page 40 – Penguin Books, 2003

    The contents of the book became equivalent with the contents of consciousness. Words affected an inner space, twisted an internal narrative, were dictated by a clock that ticked in the mind of the reader. Books began to evolve. The novel is probably the most important of the forms which transpired. Its tendency to focus in on the mind or actions of a single individual gave readership an empathetic union with what was read. Where previously truth had been a feature of the world which stories reflected, now truth was an author’s prerogative. Stories in books were self-contained realities able to control the minds of their readers. Suddenly the authors of books were the bringers of authority, of authenticity. But not everyone agreed.

    Books were now seen as having such power over the individual that they could be banned, burned en-mass, wiped from history. All the major political, psychological and intellectual upheavals of the 20th Century came with their associated book, whether actively chosen or emerging in retrospect. And with the power of retrospect many claimed that books had foretold the World Wars, the rise (and fall) of Communism, the death of history, the death of the author - even the death of the book itself. Books from the past were re-examined via new theories, new technologies of the intellect. Marxist, Freudian, Post Modern... In a world where the individual ruled, books had become the ultimate artefacts of history. A new code emerged, one which an everyday reader would not necessarily understand. A book could not merely be read anymore, it must be examined under the most explicit of conditions in order to tease apart the infinite tangles of culture that had accumulated within it. In the latter half of the 20th Century a new view began to consume the academic establishment, that truth was a misnomer.

    Since that time many arguments have been fought over where true authenticity lies, and how to mediate the multiplicities that the book encompasses. In the past ten years or so it is the masses that have been given the privilege. The internet binds us together and explodes readership. For the first time in history the act of reading can be considered a truly communal experience. Web-entities such as Wikipedia and Blogger have allowed information and knowledge to authenticate itself. Cultural evolution can occur at the click of an 'edit' link, and if it doesn’t exist in the pages of Wikipedia, well, then it isn’t worth noting.

    But what now of the book? That tome of knowledge, of history, of somewhat questionable self-located truths? Once again the book is emerging as an idol, only this time to itself. As mass produced information slowly moves from the printed page to the computer screen, to hand-held digital-ink devices, so the value of the printed word will transmogrify. Books will re-assume an identity that revolves around their individuality rather than ours. Artists books, self-published limited prints, historically significant palimpsests – these are the books we will come to register our faith in. Books will no longer represent a simulacrum of the idea they encompass – as in the mass-produced paperback – instead they will act as archaeological signifiers to otherwise un-locatable pasts. The internet contains buried beneath its surface a copy of its previous selves. Browsing the ‘history’ section of any Wikipedia article is like projecting your perspective back a few edits. Take time to navigate through The Internet Archive’s Way Back Machine and pristine, perfect versions of internet history will find their way into the archived menus of your internet browser. The data we perceive in books is very different. Each copy of a book is different, it has a history beyond the content it attempts to justify. My copy of Gravity’s Rainbow is a microcosm of the journeys I have taken it on/it has taken me on. Particles splashed onto it from a Croatian sea shore, specks of my sandwich from Venice airport, pencil scribbles and every single word they circle in an order I defined as I sat and took in some of the words, misread others, allowed other still to fall through the sieve of my conscious mind into the unconscious well beneath.

    And books can be re-read in ways as yet inconceivable for the internet. Take The Archimedes Palimpsest for instance, a text of significance for its archaeological value as well as for the fresh insight it gives scholars into the mind and works of the ancient mathematician. Contained within its multiple, physical layers are histories that scientists have had to design new technological means to access. Shine a laser onto the calcified pages and beneath each a multi-verse of forms emerge, each layer needing to be decoded separately, each signifier spanning off into infinite possible meanings beyond. Books are crucial to our understanding of our place in time and space, because they are fundamentally composed of time and space. They carry with them the history of thought, of physical presence and of psychological evolution that created them, moved them forward and now sends them explosively back into their own pasts. To understand ourselves we need to understand our pasts, to understand our pasts we need to examine the artefacts we carry with us, which carry us forwards:

    Michael Shanks: A lot of people think that archaeology—archaeologists—discover the past. And that's only a tiny bit true. I think it's more accurate to say that they work on what remains. That may sometimes involve, absolutely, coming across stuff from the past—maybe a trilobite fossil, or a piece of Roman pottery... but the key thing about archaeology is that it works on what's left. And that makes of all of us, really, a kind of archaeologist. We're all archaeologists now, working on what's left of the past.

    ... as we explore this stuff, we figure out how to bring it forward, first into the present, through our interpretation of it...

    Lynn Hershmann Leeson: Exactly. Revitalize the past, inserting it into the present, which gives direction to its future.

    Michael Shanks: Yeah. Displacement is another key feature of this archaeological sensibility. What happens when old stuff—remains—are shirted into new associations...

    And, actually, this is what archaeological science has always offered—accounts of everyday life with which we can all identify and yet find uncanny. It may simply be a thumbprint upon an ancient pot that connects an inconsequential past moment with the present; it may be the evidence of the lives of those who built a place like Stonehenge. It is the archaeological focus on the everyday that many people find fascinating.

    Lynn Hershmann Leeson: Because these are the relics of ourselves.”

    – Archaeologist Michael Shanks in discussion with artist Lynn Hershman Leeson : Extract taken from Seed Magazine, October 2007



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    Apollo     Sun, Jan 16, 2011  Permanent link
    This article is absolutely fascinating. I look forward to reading over it in more detail.
     
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