“Nick of Time”—a prepared book project in collaboration with Tick Tock
What Walter Benjamin famously identified as the “age of mechanical reproduction” of the art work has given way to the age of its dematerialization. For the iterative process of copying-an-original, digital information technologies have substituted a complex of new practices of design and of transmission in which informational objects become the basis of physical ones only as an afterthought. Nowhere has this reversal of the relationship between materiality and informationality been perfected more than in the world of the book and the text. No longer are books first and foremost the results of physical construction and the objects of spatial encounter in libraries and shops; instead, today’s book is an abstraction, planned and designed on computers and actualized as fully on the screen as in the hand. For texts today, there are no longer even “originals” that could conceivably be made present, and so there are no reproductions, merely identical instantiations of a digital plan. The construction of prepared books responds to this contemporary predicament. In a time when we are less likely to make photocopies than simply to print a file over and over, a return to the world of the anterior original is impossible. The age of the work’s reproduction is itself slipping into the past just as the age of the work’s aura already has. Modeled after John Cage’s innovation of the prepared piano, the prepared book does not seek to return to an original behind the copy but instead to turn the copy into a new thing of its own, shifting attention away from the apparent informational interchangeability of the book’s “contents” and instead back onto its forgotten specificity as a particular, contingent, material object in space and time. The preparation of the book is only the first step in the object’s circulation and reception. Prepared books are not sculptures; they must be read just as Cage’s pianos must be played. Aloud or in silence—in a bed or on a stage—the reading of a prepared book leaves much up to chance, because the prepared book cannot itself dictate what the reader is to do with the modifications to its material. In this way the prepared book itself is like a prepared piano without an accompanying musical score.