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Unbound: Speculations on the Future of the Book

My friend Tara O’Brien recently convinced me to drive across the state and meet her in Boston at MIT for the symposium Unbound: Speculations on the Future of the Book. A gazillion reasons to go or not go ping-ponged back and forth in my brain, and finally I decided just to go. (Committing before I looked at my calendar, and realizing later that I had double-booked myself and would have to leave the symposium a bit early.) Regardless, I went picked her up at the train station and drove over to Cambridge.

Frank Gehry at MIT

We wandered around, locating the locations of talks and presentations, and settled ourselves in for the evening’s performance/reading. Christian Bök, who teaches english at the University of Calgary was the headliner.  Bök is currently conducting a conceptual experiment called The Xenotext (which involves genetically engineering a bacterium so that it might become not only an archive for storing a poem in its genome for eternity, but also a machine for writing a poem as a protein in response). I couldn’t quite figure out if this was real or not. (I still don’t know.) He was very convincing in describing his experiments and studies, yet there was just a twinge of something that really made me wonder if he was just having a good time with all of us listening.

Christian Bok--the poems that are call/response related by letter. See key at top of image.

Tara and I kept talking about the truth and viability of this, laughing alongside of other participants at the outrageousness of it, yet, the believability. Look into it and decide for yourself.

The next morning we got to view a number of the prize pieces in the MIT collections–here are some images of my favorites. (Maybe next time you see this post I will have entered more detailed info about each piece.)

Sketch for a stained glass window--love in-process imagery

The vovelle

The vovelle--such a wonderful structure

This last piece sparked great conversation about institutions with treasures like this and how cool it would be if they made facsimiles of the work that were available as DIY packages. How fun would that be to get these pages and then you got to put it together? Right? Tara will hopefully take this charge and become a consultant to various libraries and institutions and help them enter this very niche market. Here’s a link to a book that she published at her institution, Ellen Emlen’s Cookbook. This is my encouragement to her–follow this path of yours friend…

Overall, the symposium sparked some interesting conversation for us, and may inspired future work and conversations. It definitely gave me the much need lift that the end of semester often requires.

Really, where else in the world has some place like this:

Center for Bits and Atoms, and what does one actually do there, I wonder?

Center for Bits and Atoms, and what does one actually do there, I wonder?

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