Thursday, April 26, 2012

Fugitive. Captured.

From: Agrippa Archive

"Agrippa (a book of the dead) is a work of art created by speculative fiction novelist William Gibson, artist Dennis Ashbaugh and publisher Kevin Begos Jr. in 1992. The work consists of a 300-line semi-autobiographical electronic poem by Gibson, embedded in an artist's book by Ashbaugh. Gibson's text focused on the ethereal nature of memories (the title is taken from a photo album). Its principal notoriety arose from the fact that the poem, stored on a 3.5" floppy disk, was programmed to erase itself after a single use; similarly, the pages of the artist's book were treated with photosensitive chemicals, effecting the gradual fading of the words and images from the book's first exposure to light."

"Last autumn, the Bodleian Library’s Special Collections Department faced an intriguing dilemma when it acquired a rare copy of Agrippa, a Book of the Dead, a hybrid print-digital work featuring a digitally encrypted poem by William Gibson that can only be read once before the data destroys itself. With artwork from noted American artist Dennis Ashbaugh, and referencing everything from genetic code to the Gutenberg Bible and Kodak scrapbook nostalgia, the book’s digital element was designed to self-efface after a single 'transmission.' Chris Fletcher, head curator at the Special Collections, asked, 'Do we conserve the book and vandalise the poem, or read the poem and lose the book?' [...]
     I caught up with Agrippa’s publisher Kevin Begos recently to talk about why he chose to entrust the archive to the Bodleian, cultural memory in the digital age, and how critics have too often failed to approach Agrippa in a holistic way, with Gibson’s celebrity largely occluding interest in the book as a cross-genre, intensively collaborative work of literature and art. While press coverage at the time of release painted Gibson as the book’s main author, Begos and Ashbaugh were the project’s initial and primary architects—with some help from French poet Stéphane Mallarmé and Maurice Blanchot. Now that the archive is deposited at the Bodleian, Begos told me, he hopes scholars will approach and play with Agrippa in the way he and his co-authors intended: as a work of art and literature which stages complex intersections between genres and form, and attempts to articulate how meaning and memory are constantly evolving."
— Courtney Traub, The Oxonian Review

Read William Gibson's Agrippa poem here...

See more about the book here...

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