Poetry News

Tan Lin and Angela Genusa Talk New Forms of the Book at Rhizome

By Harriet Staff

"A Book Is Technology" is an interview with the fascinating poet, novelist, and filmmaker Tan Lin at Rhizome. Lin talked with Angela Genusa about what a book could be, what reading might mean today, how technology might fit in, and so on. Par exemple:

How would you prepare someone who has never read a Tan Lin book to read one of your books?

It’s a little hard to say. I think a book is something consumed slowly over many years—it’s a little like watching a plant reproduce. What are HEATH and 7CV? I’m not sure, but maybe a delayed reading experience that involves Course Paks, marketing departments of publishing houses, seminars at the University of Pennsylvania, RSS feeds, and Post-it notes. And, of course, other books—with 7CV, The Joy of Cooking—and with plagiarism/outsource, blogs that chronicled Heath Ledger’s death. Why insert The Joy of Cooking into the title of 7CV? Because it was the cookbook my family used to become American and because I thought the title would increase Google hits. I consider Google a mode of (loose) autobiography. A book in Google Books, like someone’s search history, isn’t really a book; it’s data connected to other data, and it’s searchable. Reading, like autobiography, is a subset of a search function.

Why did you print Post-it notes in HEATH?

After the Zasterle edition of HEATH came out, I was often asked to read from it, but it’s long and I had difficulty controlling and seeing what I should be reading, or even seeing what’s important, so I stuck Post-it notes to cover up parts of the text and in that way made a more streamlined and visible (at least to me!) version. It’s like a paper map to me, inserted in a digital production. When the book was republished by Counterpath, we photographically reproduced the pages covered with Post-it notes. In the new edition, the Post-it notes look like you can run your fingers over them, but they’re just photographs (of a book) after it gave up some textual matter. Books change over time and they’re blind; they give up information as readily as they gain it. What is a book today? I have no idea.

In an interview with Katherine Elaine Sanders for BOMB, you stated that "Reading is a kind of integrated software." Could you elaborate on this?

Integrated software is a genre of software that combines word processing, database management, and spreadsheet applications, and communications platforms. This genre has been superseded by various full-function office suites, but I was interested in reading modelled in that way, i.e., different kinds of reading, each with specific functions. I mean, you read Harlequin romances differently than recipes, and you read Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheets differently than you read Excel, and you read experimental Japanese novels differently than you read text messages, and in terms of documents processed by software, you have distinctions between, say, end-user manuals, bills of sales, Unified Modeling Language models, and legal contracts. These are genres of reading, and they’re housed or processed in the same generic platform that I call “reading.” So reading is an application that processes or assembles varied kinds of material. I was interested in creating works of literature that could be read like recipes or spreadsheets or PowerPoint presentations.

Read the full interview here.

Originally Published: October 25th, 2012