Text By Steve Rushton

I will make a number of starts and each start will get me a little further.
I will tell a few stories and each story will serve as an example of something or will lead to a key point. Introducing the structure of multiple starting points and a good peppering of anecdote also allows for the text to be added to or taken from. This first paragraph serves the duel function of introduction and invitation – some might find this coercive and blanch at the barefaced self-reflexivity of the whole thing.
This is a Text as opposed to a Work. Roland Barthes made the distinction back in 1979 as a response to the implications of the trendy term ‘intertextuality.’ The distinction sets up a neat set of binaries: text plural -– work singular; text active – work complete; text relational– work isolated; text object of play – work object of consumption; text object of circulation, a web, réseau, a network.
I would like to send you a picture of a few pages of my own copy of this text, which is scared with underlining, margin notes and doodles.
<Steve Rushton sends “worktotext.jpeg” to members of this chat>
This will serve as an illustration of the text as something that is always being worked on, the edges of its pages are folded over, its spine bent backwards. In this ideal state the text is always on its way to something else. The fantasy of the text is that of the perfect conversation. I am a victim of this fantasy, I’m sending you imaginary files for Christ’s sake, and I’m talking to an imaginary reader who, as you read, shifts into place.
The work is pristine and timeless; it is that seamless expanse from which one word may not be taken away or added -– an edict in the Book of Revelation that protects that most textual of works. In this respect the work carries with it a regulative fantasy that is constantly undermined- – Scheherazade’s tales spawn new tales within themselves, the Decameron cannot resist the logic of plurality.
I remember watching a chat show with Truman Capote and Jack Kerouac.
It must have been recorded when Kerouac was at his most free-flowing and improvisatory, at the same time that Capote was working over jewel-like particles of prose. In the show Kerouac boasted of writing more than 5000 words a day. “Darling,” retorted Capote in his droll, helium twang “that’s not writing, that’s typing.” Capote wanted to protect that rare animal caged behind the grid of the text. Kerouac’s instinct was to disrupt the role of interpretation. The work protects the writer – the text sets the typist to work.
Despite having established the text’s ontology as provisional, and having established that it is about activity and production, I note that in my mind, and in this text so far, the text is still a discrete object – it has been lived with, it has passed through several hands, it is inhabited. So perhaps I find it hard to accept how radically provisional our fantasy of the text is.
This story is set a few years into the future and the central character uses wearable memory as he goes about his business, it’s a diamond brooch encrusted with a tiny camera equipped with recognition software that whispers reminders into his ear. The story begins as the wearable memory is about to whisper the name of a woman walking toward the man. He is, of course an extension of the apparatus but he doesn’t feel machine-like, in fact the observation that he is machine-like would be laughable.
He remembers earlier memory prosthetics, it was when he used to google everything that he realized he had begun to really live the archive and that the past and the present had in some way collapsed into each other. What was present, that which was present, was what could be accessed and downloaded and what was streamed (also present) was immediately archived. -…
The wearable memory reads her face as she takes another step in his direction. His mode of attention is not dissimilar to that of the apparatus that envelopes him, he browses, he scans. This is the most effective way of locating and capturing any image/message. She has spotted him now and the tiny camera in her sunglasses reads his face. Previously, they shared the fantasy that one could delve into an archive, immerse oneself, bury oneself in books and papers – this was the fantasy of the reader as one who makes a deep connection with the past – knowledge lived in the past, that was its proper place. In this fantasy archive, perhaps a dusty library full with texts that have passed through thousands of hands, one is transported into a deep space with many dimensions, a space with no surface on which to surf.
He doesn’t try to beat the wearable memory; he simply doesn’t have to recollect her name because the wearable memory will retrieve it. It isn’t as if his memory is faulty or under utilized its just that memory isn’t in the past any more, like people used to imagine…(he glances over at an old man sitting on the terrace, filling in a crossword puzzle…) …now the past and the present no longer have the same relation. Knowledge used to be built from firm foundations and formed a firm epistemological structure, perhaps supported by Greek columns…(five letters… Doric…) But today, he considers, reality is framed by a recursive epistemology – knowledge looping back as knowledge of an expanded self – perceiving, communicating, coding, and translating…
As we approach each other, neither of us even pretends to remember the other’s name, neither of us pretends that we have not been prompted by the wearable memory, we’d both cringe at the fraudulence of such a gesture.
Now I remember a story about an industrialist in the nineteenth century. For the record, he wore a handlebar mustache, a black suit and pinstriped waistcoat. He owned a factory in the north of England and instructed his team of managers that it would be beneficial to teach the workers he employed to read, so they could operate the increasingly complicated machinery &c, but he strictly forbid that they should learn to write.
Leaving aside whether or not such a plan is desirable, is such a plan possible?
One can follow pictograms in any airport in the world and never get lost. The first pictograms, which were called Isotypes <International System of Typographic Picture Education> , were developed in the 1920s in order to teach the semi-literate workers of Red Vienna about the City’s radical housing policy. This was a top-down system which one could easily read but didn’t have to write (or in this case draw). It was around this time that we developed our taste for browsing, when the proliferating digits of the industrial age were converted into pictures – this is when when we learned to read the interface and not the code….
< Steve Rushton sends file “like sailors on the open sea.pdf” to members of this chat>


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Page last modified on November 30, 2007, at 04:43 PM