- Reading (Between) Machine
For those who believe that the avant la lettres remain on the page, a recent work of multimedia literature can get you up-to-speed in playful and poetic ways. Amaranth Borusk and Brad Bouse’s Between Page and Screen is an augmented -reality book of poetry: a codex filled with QR (“quick response”) codes that trigger a networked Internet connection to produce concrete poetry between the space of the page and the screen. The work’s title suggests its technopoetic and pedagogical pursuit. Between Page and Screen is about the in-between, and it provides a bridge between pages and screens, poetry and games. It crosses over and comments upon the connection between machine reading and machine writing, between augmented reality and avant-garde literature. It pulls highbrows, academics, and intellectuals into the digital sphere, where others have been reading for a while now. And it does so with rich, rigorous poetics that model the future of the literary by demonstrating how machine writing can be very, very good.
Every page of this finely made little letterpress-like book contains a QR graphic: a small black square comprised by a geometric pattern set against the stark white page. That’s it, there’s no text to read, just geometric shapes. The omnipresence of such images in our networked world—where they grace every commodity, from hammers to novels—has taught us that these data-imprints require a machine reader to translate them into content that can then be parsed by a human reader. When this little book is held up to a web-camera on the reader’s computer, and that computer is connected to the Internet, specifically to the URL associated with the book, then a digital connection is made between the QR code and www.betweenpageandscreen.com. The result is a projection of three-dimensional concrete poetry that appears, as if by magic, and beckons to be seen and read. Upon unleashing this poetry, the reader is struck by the notion that she is not the only reader involved in the processural poetic of Between Page and Screen. The work exposes the book to be a reading machine that, rather than standing in opposition to digital technology, can be purposefully connected to the Internet and its networked reading practices.
Book-based QR-based literature is nothing new, and to share one example I’m going to shift from discussing American poetry to a lowbrow cousin that seems to occupy the opposite literary register: the Playstation WonderBook version of Harry Potter, Wonderbook: Book of Spells (2012). To dip down a little more, let me quote Jeff Rubin, host of the online show jeffrubinjeffrubinshow. com on “College Humor,” as he introduces the augmented-book. He describes Wonderbook: Book of Spells as representing “how the Playstation has improved books.” This statement is said tongue-and-cheek, for, as one of the casual but astute co-hosts then responds, “Great, it’s like a book you can’t read without plugging yourself into a television…the perfect book!” The couch-critics (they actually are sitting on a couch) then debate the genre of this Wonderbook: is it a game, a book, a “window”? The same questions could be posed about Between Page and Screen. The book’s publisher, Siglio Press, describes itself as “an independent press dedicated to publishing uncommon books and editions that live at the intersection of art & literature,” and it claims to publish works that “defy categories and thoroughly engage a reader’s intellect and imagination.”
If Between Page and Screen is the result of this quest, then this little independent publisher just might just have more in common with Playstation than we might think. So, what do we see by positioning Siglio and Playstation side-by-side and reading between the pages and screens of the wonder books they publish? Isn’t it obvious? Both use QR codes to display the magic of reading, to invoke the potential spell a book can cast.
Between Page and Screen is very much about...