Paul Virilio



Scan/flip/spread is a proposal for a conference that was recently rejected. Posting it here for reference as I search for the proper home for this book experiment.

How we author, design and publish language-based communications is undergoing a radical shape-shift. The acceleration of the book (as commodity, technological device, art object) has entered a new stage of evolution in our trajectory towards constant presence and the post-human, and reading—the eye-brain processing of written culture—has much to lose, and gain, in the transformation.

What legacy of the book do we wish to bequeath to the future?

What is the futurestory of the book?

Several attributes of reading that are about to be lost, perhaps only temporarily (patina, olfactory, nostalgic), have opened up deep space for others (gestural, social, access, speed). And even more are on the way, as we prepare for the near-future absorption of the screen into the body (Google Glasses). While the machine’s gigapixel eye learns to see like us (or better than us), we in turn consume language and visual culture with machine-like fervor. We may have instant access to the book in now-time, but our human capacity for the prolonged, slow read has diminished.

In Virilio’s dromosphere, meaning is scanned in the always-now and understanding outsourced for later retrieval. Bots, our acceleration assistants, now play an active role in our digital communications, and seem poised to help us negotiate sense-making in the future of the book. Language already flexes in real-time to accommodate our decreased patience for print and the long form. What’s happening to narrative in the time-compression continuum? What will machine-read material look (and feel) like once the before-and-after edges of the page disappear and we begin mainlining content in now-time? As authors, artists and publishers—how will we design it?

To open up these and other questions, and as a provocation to engage in the book/time conversation, I propose a series of printed book experiments on the occasion of MutaMorphosis: Tribute to Uncertainty. These are actions of resistance—strategies for countering our growing need to read in haste. Three concepts will direct us to a poetic, if analog, investigation of book/time and the fast/slow speed of reading: scan, flip and spread. Working with found texts, public domain works, bot-generated ephemera and other digital artifacts, a printed book or short series of books that encourages and/or discourages slow reading will be produced as a limited print-on-demand edition for the MutaMorphosis conference (via Espresso Book Machine or other inexpensive digital-to-paper solution). The books will be distributed to all conference participants for discussion (panel, artist’s presentation or otherwise, TBD).

Scan/Flip/Spread puts forward the idea of the fast(er) book (print-on-demand) and braises it with the slow read. The investigation will explore the interface of the printed book—page-to-language ratio, typographic depth and density, page-turn-time, frame, weight, read rhythm, chance, flip speed and other formal aspects of the page; as well as content—questions of narrative, sense, curation and image/word play. Our goal, as a group, will be to create a space to embrace and counter the technologies of automation that are transforming language, visual culture, the page and reading—through the printed book object.