When a work is sent out to the public, when it is shared, it becomes something else. This change is inevitable. It is inherent in the media itself, this idea of transformission. Kirschenbaum describes this change in one way when he cites Gavin Edwards as writing about two drawings in Agrippa. He states: “[o]ne, in ultra-violet ink, disappears when exposed to light for an hour; the other, in infrared ink, only becomes visible after an hour in the light” (221). These pictures comment on, or transmit information to us on, the notion of permanence that we have discussed in class in different ways. However, what they do have in common is that these effects are only able to work their magic when we pick up the book and read it, or perhaps more accurately, when we view it. Knowing that these pages do these things is what separates the notions of transformation and transmission. We are told that these pages change. That thought may get our mental wheels turning and help us to form a picture, but it greatly discounts the ability of the work to accomplish the goals set by its creators, or to have any sort of impact that the reader draws from his or her own personal interaction. Transformission is the acknowledgement of a need to end the passive engagement many people adopt when engaging with any form of media. For all art, and all media, to truly accomplish all the things that they can, we have to really engage with them; we have to take the time to pay attention to all the things that makes any form of media what it is and remember to always ask not only what something is, but why it is.
The simulcast of “Agrippa” is particularly fascinating in that it was called “‘The Transmission’” (Kirschenbaum 223). After it was hacked and uploaded to the web for everyone to see, in other words, when it was transmitted from one person to another, it became something else, it was transformed. It was taken to a new level. It was a twenty-minute viewing session for those in attendance and one moment reading the lines of the poem was just as important as the one that followed it, because the idea was that you only saw it once. When the poem was taken out of this context, the notion of permanence changed. What is interesting is that the creators of Agrippa seemed to expect that. Gibson stated that the poem being on the internet permanently “produced a sort of monument to [his] father … [a]nd it wound up being this ghostly presence on the inter-net, which [he] couldn’t erase if [he] wanted to” (228). The poem transcended authorial expectations, what he meant for the poem to mean and do, as all forms of media often do when they are released to the general public. When that sentiment, that information, is transmitted, it is also transformed.
Media affects us; there is no question about that. When we interact with media, in any form, we are changed, in however small of a way. We could read an article that introduces us to places we never knew existed, or watch a film that moves us to tears. Even so, it is necessary to recognize that the very approach to engaging with the media we encounter in our daily lives on a truly personal level is just as important as the act itself. What we do or don’t get out of the reading of a poem or the viewing of a film is entirely up to us. The following article and video demonstrate that concept in a rather unique way. What this artist, Thijs Biersteker, is trying to accomplish with his book appears to be to again take us out of that idea of passive engagement with media. One has to be in the right frame of mind to take in the information contained in the book, to concentrate on the message rather than the aesthetic elements of the book. One has to acknowledge that an important task is about to be undertaken. Time will be spent here. It is not something, as we often like to say now when we are dreading a task, that we “get through.” As Kirschenbaum states, “The presence of the message also matters” (248). Still, it is important to note, as the artist does, that there is a sort of irony in this “book that judges you on judgment by judging you” (Biersteker qtd. in Bereznak). Biersteker wants to get viewers out of the mindset that the surface is the most important thing, but in doing so, the surface of the viewer takes precedent over even an excitement to read the material. That excitement is even a deterrent for the book lock’s operating system.
See the video and read the article at this link:
This goes back to what I wrote about earlier in this post about how we need to acknowledge that we are affected by the media we encounter every day, just as we are affected by the people in our lives. Transformission then, is that acknowledgement, and that is what I think that Kirschenbaum is getting at, at least in part, through his article. When we share our feelings on Facebook or watch a YouTube video we are taking in or sending out information. We are reaching out to the world. We are often told that our actions have consequences, that what we do changes the path that we are on and can impact other people. This idea can be applied to the viewing of Agrippa, and of all media as well. All works of art have creators who are giving a part of themselves to viewers as they create and share their work. As the meaning of their work changes and evolves, they too are changed, and so are we. Transformission is the acknowledgment that transmission and transformation will forever go hand in hand as we engage with media.