Griffin Day

Chapter 5 from Matthew Kirschenbaum’s book _Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination _describes the term “transformission.”

Transformission is, in a literal sense, an amalgamation of the words “transformation” and “transmission” but when the two words are combined, the product is a word with an entirely new meaning. Transformission describes the way that any text (because as McLeod writes, there are no texts that aren’t transmitted) communicates its content and meaning to readers. In a digital sense, and especially in the case of digitally presented works like “Agrippa”, the meaning of transformission is more specific as any online or digital text involves the process of lines of unintelligible (to the average person) code being simultaneously transmitted and transformed (transformitted) into readable text by whatever program or operating system it was designed to be received by. To transmit is to send a message, and to transform is to totally change, but transformission is a horse of a different color because it describes the process where one process cannot exist without the other. TV and radio signals flying through the airspace are transformitted through the process of electromagnetic waves changed by a receiver into consumable media. In the case of “Agrippa”, transformission not only takes place, but also is necessary because the full content of the work cannot be realized without the help of a diskette and a computer.

As Kirschenbaum writes in Chapter 5,

“The encryption of “Agrippa” the poem is a dramatization of the eventual fate of all digital objects, which will inexorably be reduced to opaque code blocks, or BLOBs, as they become detached and drift away from their native software environments, and as those software environments themselves become distanced from the hardware running the operating systems that support and sustain them.”

A print version of Agrippa would still be “transmitted” to its reader, and would certainly have different meanings for different readers (which perhaps could be described as a transformation of sorts), but it is not “transformed” by its transmission in as radical or unavoidable a way as the magnetically etched 1’s and 0’s on the diskette are transformitted into a readable poem. When a programmer writes computer code, she also designs the transformission process. Lines of code can be transmitted, but until they are transformed they have not realized their full purpose, which is to be received, and altered by one of the “software environments” described by Kirschenbaum. In the case of “Agrippa” the software environment was the Mac operating system for which the diskette was designed, and its “transformission” involved not only the lines of code on the diskette that were transmitted to the Mac OS and transformed into the scrolling lines of text we saw on the reenactment, but also the way that the act of inserting the diskette itself transformits the physical “Agrippa”, a hand burned, hand bound and artfully presented tome filled with unintelligible symbols from an art project into a readable poem. Of course, to describe the book version of “Agrippa” as nothing more than an art project may be reductive, as it is certainly a literary work first and foremost, but the message transmitted by the “coded” physical text of “Agrippa” is entirely different from the message transmitted by the text of the poem presented to the reader after insertion of the diskette.

Only through transformission, the act of inserting the diskette (thereby transmitting the message of the book to the computer) and letting the computer do its work to “transform” the digital code could the full meaning of “Agrippa” be realized. In the case of “Agrippa”, the transmission and transformation are inexorably linked- we cannot insert a disc without transmitting a message, and unless the disc is broken it has no choice but to transform the information that it holds into something that the user can understand. Even a corrupted disc would engage in transformission when, after insertion, it communicated to the user through the computer that it could not display desired information because it had been corrupted. In this way, transformission describes transmission and transformation when they occur simultaneously and each process is essential to and inseparable from the other.

This YouTube clip of a new James Patterson project- a novel that self destructs within 24 hours, is a good example of another type of transformission- the physical novel contains code that will send transmit a signal to the book to transform itself into ash. The very act of publishing this book could perhaps be described as transformission because the transmission of the content in Private Vegas is inexorably linked to its eventual transformation into nothing.