Last week, I went to the lab and tinkered with the Xerox 6016 Memorywriter, and I became completely consumed with a mini-project that I came up with on the spot. My idea for the mini-project came about when I discovered that the machine was able to actually erase text with the push of a button. Like other typewriters, too, the machine is able to write letters on top of one another, thereby obfuscating the letter beneath. I began to experiment with the machine, with the intent to capitalize on its ability to obscure the very text it creates.
I began to write a single sentence, without spaces, over and over again: “themediumobliteratesitself.” Each time I rewrote the sentence, I would obscure a letter by writing the next letter on top of it. Finally, at the end of the experiment I wrote all of the letters on top of each other, until the entire sentence became a blob of ink. But then, here’s the part that got me really excited: I hit the backspace button, and the machine erased the entire the little blob, with plenty of satisfying noise for accompaniment. I took a video of the entire process, and intended to speed up the entire video. Unfortunately, I started to have some technical difficulties with my phone, so the videos weren’t consistent enough to build a coherent, accelerated video from them. Iff I were to attempt the project again, I would have to take a much better video, and I would also change the repeated sentence to “themediumobliteratesitsmessage.”
This week’s reading from Niebisch’s Media Parasites in the Early Avant-Garde was quite illuminating in identifying yet another way that media can be manipulated and complicated. Niebisch’s articulation of the Dadaists’ and Futurists’ different parasitic relationships with media—relationships that emphasized “irritation” as a means toward generativity and productivity—got me thinking about ways that media can be used and abused toward new productive ends. While I by no means think that my trivial experiment with the Memorywriter constitutes the avant-garde, I do think that my project, in its humble way, shows the ways in which media can be used against itself, in order to create a new way of using that media.
I intend to include some video of my mini-project, but I’m having a bit of difficulty doing so! I’ll keep fiddling around with the videos and see if I can post them as a comment to this blog post.