I didn’t come to Austin to get an archival jolt from a digital artists’ book. I’ve been at the Ransom Center this weekend attending a conference on literary archives and writers’ papers, “Creating a Usable Past.” I have never seen William Gibson’s 1992 artists’ book, one evidently well-known on the Internet. The cataloging notes say Agrippa has some photosensitive engravings and a disk holding the poem, “which may be displayed on a computer screen only once, and then is irretrievably encrypted.” Matt Kirschenbaum, professor at MITH, hacked the code of Agrippa and played it for us on a Mac emulator. Matt tells us his work will be up on the web in six weeks or so.
I was having something akin to Ted Bishop’s experience with the symptoms of archive fever. Ted is a Virginia Woolf scholar. In Riding with Rilke he describes the “jolt” of reading Woolf’s suicide letter. Yesterday morning the audience at the august Ransom Center was reading Agrippa on the big screen. The Mac emulator made it feel a bit like I was reading it in 1992. Back in 1992 I don’t think I knew what an artists’ book was.
Three of UT’s undergraduates have been blogging the conference at flairforarchives.
Jennifer Schaffner was a Program Officer with the OCLC Research Library Partnership. She worked with the rare books, manuscripts and archives communities. She worked with OCLC Research from 2007 to 2015.