December 9, 2013 § Leave a comment
“It was while looking at Google’s scan of the Dewey Decimal Classification system that I saw my first one—the hand of the scanner operator completely obscuring the book’s table of contents,” writes the artist Benjamin Shaykin. What he saw disturbed him: it was a brown hand resting on a page of a beautiful old book, its index finger wrapped in a hot-pink condom-like covering. In the page’s lower corner, a watermark bore the words “Digitized by Google.”
There are several collections of Google hands around the Web, each one as creepy as the one Shaykin saw. A small but thriving subculture is documenting Google Books’ scanning process, in the form of Tumblrs, printed books, photographs, online videos, and gallery-based installations. Something new is happening here that brings together widespread nostalgia for paperbound books with our concerns about mass digitization. Scavengers obsessively comb through page after page of Google Books, hoping to stumble upon some glitch that hasn’t yet been unearthed. This phenomenon is most thoroughly documented on a Tumblr called The Art of Google Books, which collects two types of images: analog stains that are emblems of a paper book’s history and digital glitches that result from the scanning. On the site, the analog images show scads of marginalia written in antique script, library “date due” stamps from the mid-century, tobacco stains, wormholes, dust motes, and ghosts of flowers pressed between pages. On the digital side are pages photographed while being turned, resulting in radical warping and distortion; the solarizing of woodcuts owing to low-resolution imaging; sonnets transformed by software bugs into pixelated psychedelic patterns; and the ubiquitous images of workers’ hands.
The obsession with digital errors in Google Books arises from the sense that these mistakes are permanent, on the record. Earlier this month, Judge Denny Chin ruled that Google’s scanning, en masse, of millions of books to make them searchable is legal. In the future, more and more people will consult Google’s scans. Because of the speed and volume with which Google is executing the project, the company can’t possibly identify and correct all of the disturbances in what is supposed to be a seamless interface. There’s little doubt that generations to come will be stuck with both these antique stains and workers’ hands. read more
ART: Tachibana Seiko
March 26, 2013 § Leave a comment
You know I hate it when people mock English-as-a-second-language speakers for their grammatical missteps. If your sense of humor is so unrefined as to find ESL speakers’ errors jestworthy, I think you’re a boor. Internet society doesn’t think the same, but then again, Internet society also thinks it’s acceptable to shout “FIRST!” in a comment thread and that being racist when you know better is somehow subversive.
So I hope you won’t think me hypocritical for mocking someone whose knowledge of English is clearly lacking. There’s a key difference, though, in that English is this person’s native language. On an old post talking about one of the only, I recently got this comment:
‘One of the only’ is poor grammar because ‘one of’ implies plural and ‘the only’ implies one. ‘One of the one’ doesn’t do much for logic.
If you have gone a sizable portion of your life speaking and hearing English (which I assume one has to have to be bloviating on what’s poor grammar) and you think that only implies one, then you do not know English. read more
ART: Wolfgang Stifter
November 7, 2012 § Leave a comment
Literature cannot meaningfully be treated as data. The problem is essential rather than superficial: literature is not data. Literature is the opposite of data.
Data precedes written literature. The first Sumerian examples of written language are recordings of beer and barley orders. But The Epic of Gilgamesh, the first story, is the story of “the man who saw the deep,” a hero who has contact with the ineffable. The very first work of surviving literature is on the subject of what can’t be processed as information, what transcends data.
The first problem is that literature is terminally incomplete. You can record every baseball statistic. You can record every trade over the course of a year. You can work out the trillions of permutations and combinations available on a chessboard. You can even establish a complete database for all of the legislation and case law in the world. But you cannot know even most of literature, even English literature. Huge swaths of the tradition are absent or in ruins. Among the first Anglo-Saxon poems, from the eighth century, is “The Ruin,” a powerful testament to the brokenness inherent in civilization. Its opening lines:
The masonry is wondrous; fates broke it
The courtyard pavements were smashed; the work of giants is decaying.
The poem comes from the Exeter Book of Anglo-Saxon poetry and several key lines have been destroyed by damp. So, one of the original poems in the English lyric tradition contains, in its very physical existence, a comment on the fragility of the codex as a mode of transmission. The original poem about a ruin is itself a ruin.
Literature is haunted by such oblivion, by incipient decay. The information we have about the past is, in almost every case, fragmentary. There are always masses of data which are simply missing or which cannot be untangled. The most obvious and relevant example is Shakespeare. There are nine different versions of Richard III; there are three versions of Hamlet, each with missing sections or added sections. There are missing plays. Cardenio. Love’s Labour’s Won. They no longer exist. So even the work of Shakespeare, which has been scrupulously attended to by generations of scholars, cannot be completely described. Literature is irredeemably broken and messy. read more
PHOTOGRAPH: Nicky Peacock