The murmur of the snarkmatrix…

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Popes, panels and Paper Machines

So I went to this terrific conference last week called the Forum d’Avignon. Highlights included seeing comic-book auteur Marjane Satrapi, hanging out with the AFP’s Eric Scherer, talking Dude Theory with Umair Haque (previous love here, here), and seeing Larry Lessig give one of his amazing, media-saturated presentations in this room…

…which is inside this building…

…which is, you know, where the pope once reigned.

Pretty nice spot for a conference.

Now, let me pause there and start another thread. They’re going to come back together in a moment.

Tim has recommended Jacques Derrida’s book Paper Machine many times before (here and here, for starters)—and he even hooked me up with a copy a few months ago. Since then, I’ve tried, several times, to dig into it—always without any luck.

But that’s a virtue of physical books, isn’t it? They’re persistent. They hang around. They don’t disappear forever when you close the tab. So as I was packing for the Forum d’Avignon, I saw Paper Machine sitting there on my white table, and thought to myself, well, this seems appropriate.

Maybe sleep deprivation is the secret. Maybe high altitude helps abstract thinking. Maybe Air France puts philosophy in their coffee. Whatever it was, my experience with Paper Machine was completely transformed: I devoured it. Couldn’t get enough. My Carmody-provided copy is now mangled and molested—page-corners turned back, sections starred and underlined.

(And no surprise, Tim’s right: you ought to read this book.)

Here’s where it comes back together. In that grand conclave room of the Palais des Papes in Avignon, I moderated a panel of my own…

… a panel that featured, among others, the director of an innovative school in Denmark; the director of the second-largest publisher in France; and the chairman of Vivendi. And midway through this panel, to make a point, I used… yes… Paper Machine:

I just want to reinforce that there were some serious dudes in the audience here—the chairman of Vivendi on my left, and various ministers and CEOs arrayed before us. And that’s cool! The stuff we talk about here reaches out into the real world. Sometimes we get to be emissaries for this long-running conversation, and bring it before the bishops and cardinals of the media magisterium.

So that’s my Paper Machine story.

With one addendum: back during the flight, I was flipping through the book, looking for a note I’d made. I simply could not find it. I finally found the spot in the text that I’d been thinking of—but no note. The page was pristine. I was sure I’d made a big squiggly mark there; I remembered doing it, with a flourish; we were 30,000 feet above the Atlantic and I thought I was going insane.

But in fact, my copy of Paper Machine is defective. The first 32 pages repeat—so at page 33, I have another title page, and then the whole thing just loops, all the way until page 64, at which point it continues as if nothing happened. So aha: I had marked one copy of that spot, but was now looking at another.

Two things. First: isn’t that just totally, absolutely perfect? I cannot tell you how delighted I am that my copy of Jacques Derrida’s Paper Machine is messed up in a way that only a physical book could be messed up. And second: I still have 32 pages to read, somehow.


Len says…

dude you look like Lex Luthor now. That overlord video screen looks like the Apple commercial.

1. The lighting is rather scary & skulltacular, isn’t it?
2. I’m pretty sure there were some actual supervillains in the audience.

I actually think the second picture is more creepier than the first–more demagogue on the march. In the first you look more like a large tapestry of a helpful young priest.

Len says…

And, this event looks completely cool and I am very jealous. Now the tables have turned: you are the moderator now.

Also, the Pope in Avignon wasn’t the REAL Pope.

Tim Carmody says…

If I remember right, I bought you three books: Paper Machine, Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility, and Other Writings on Media, and Alan Liu’s The Laws of Cool. And you said, “Cool! I’m going to start with the skinny one!” — which was Paper Machine, definitely the least accessible of the three books. 😉

Still, totally delighted that you’ve 1) read the book 2) like the book and especially 3) made use of the book! And the irregular signatures in the book, man, that’s just gravy. There’s a whole Derridean reading of “the fold” to be made there, which I will mercifully leave alone. 🙂

“But that’s a virtue of physical books, isn’t it? They’re persistent. They hang around. They don’t disappear forever when you close the tab.”

ℑ ❦ you for this phrase, simply beautiful (though tabs also stop disappearing once you use insta’paper’ or other ‘book’marking tools).

What did the director of KaosPilots say? I’m interested in “rethinking education in a web2.0 world” and am currently looking at — an action-learning kind of business school. I’m sure you’d a few thoughts on this subject.

Also, if you think that that kind of screw up is only possibly with paper books, you clearly have not graded enough papers and lab reports turned in via email. 🙂

I think it says something about Derrida’s writing that you could read the first 32 pages twice and not notice. I think it says that there is so much in it you found new things the second time.

The snarkmatrix awaits you

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