Hurricane Sandy, Reading, Money

Last week, after hurricane Sandy, I had no power, heat, lights, internet, hot water, cell service or client meetings.  Life and work were on hold. The temperature in my studio was a crisp 53 degrees, which was not conducive to working, so I spent most of the days walking around Manhattan. One thing I noticed was that while paper and screens were used for communication, paper emerged as a necessity for commerce.

Myself, and most residents living in lower Manhattan needed to walk to 27th St., where power and cell service began. The grocery stores that remained open in lower Manhattan had plenty of food and water: what people needed was juice for their phones and cash. Mass charging on daisy chained power strips took place in coffee houses, outside of stores, at portable generators in parks, and even at pedal powered dynamos on Avenue C. This atmosphere of cooperation extended into the street where cars—without traffic lights—negotiated the intersections without incident in my observation.

But paper still had its place. At Fishs Eddy, many wrote cheeky post it notes to Sandy, a kind of postmodern post card. Also, paper money was once again a necessity. Credit cards were useless without electricity or cell service.  But Banks and ATM’s were closed. Do many Manhattan residents stash cash under the mattress? Merchants tallied bills with a pencil and paper or visual inspection. Tax was largely ignored, possibly rationalized because there were no services, or likely too difficult to record.

Could this be a glimpse at a potential post-apoclyptic culture?  What if all cell phone service had disappeared? How many of us still have battery powered radios? Among other things, Sandy highlights the overlapping and non-linear nature of technological change as well as the durability of paper, a technology which is at least 2,000 years old.

I didn’t see anyone using books, though….

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Contact me or the AIC-CERT disaster response team, or The New York Alliance for Response if you have wet or water damaged books.

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Things are back to normal for me, but there are still ongoing needs for others. Many, especially in New Jersey, are still without power, heat, and need gas, food, etc. Donate to your favorite charities if possible, or these local ones.

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David Nye has a great and very readable social history of blackouts titled “When the Lights Went Out”. There is a section on the 2003 east coast blackouts.

Paper, Paper, Paper

Before Jacques Derrida died, he used to teach a yearly seminar for grad students at New York University, which I managed to sit in on in the late 90’s.  It was completely over my head, but it was an intellectual roller-coaster that I will never forget.  I could barely remember where I lived after listening to him for a while.  One of his later books, Paper Machine, deals largely with paper and  books.

Included in the book is an interview, where he was asked to what extent paper functions as multimedia, and how paper has influenced his work.  Derrida responds:

Seeing all these questions emerging on paper, I have the impression (the impression!–what a word, already) that I have never had any other subject:  basically paper, paper , paper.  It could be demonstrated, with supporting documentation and quotations, “on paper”: I have always written, and even spoken, on paper: on the subject of paper, an actual paper, and with paper in mind.  Support, subject, surface, mark, trace, written mark, inscription, fold–these were also themes that gripped me by a tenacious certainty, which goes back forever but has been more and more justified and confirmed, that the history of this “thing,” this thing that can be felt, seen and touched, and thus contingent, paper, will have been a brief one.  Paper is evidently the limited “subject ” of a domain circumscribed in the time and space of a hegemony that marks out a period in the history of a technology and in the history of humanity. (p. 41)

Although he wrote this in 2001, it is remarkable how prescient he was, given the recent revolution in ebook readers: the Sony reader, the Kindle and the Nook.

Derrida, Jacques. Paper Machine. Trans. Rachel Bowlby. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005.

Upcoming Events In June

If you are in the New England area, consider attending the Book Arts Supply Market.

Book Arts Supply Market
June 7th, 2009
12:30-4:30
Arlington Center for the Arts
41 Foster Street
Arlington, MA

I will be there with a full range of tools for sale, including the infamous bargain box, which is quite full right now.

I also have prototypes of some new tools I am working on, for example, a portable, collapsible sewing frame that only weighs 1 lb, 12.4 oz (804 grams) including 5 Al sewing keys.  It is 11 3/8″ (290 mm) between the uprights and packs flat at only 1 1/8″ (30 mm).  Rubber feet keep it from sliding around on the workbench.

portable sewing frame

Also I have a reproduction of the boxed set of knives I made for Abraham Karastovsky, which I wrote about earlier and were featured in the book “Homicide in Hardcover.”

ak knives

Please stop by and say hello!

 

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I will be presenting the following talk in NYC on Sunday, June 21 at 3:00.  Please feel free to repost and contact me if there are any questions.  I also have a half sheet flyer I can email anyone who would like to post it.  I envision this talk as a type of outreach, since it contains information about book history and conservation.    It should be a lot of fun.

 

THE UNIVERSITY OF TRASH PRESENTS:

THE OBSOLETE MAN AND THE OBSOLETE BOOK?

 Sunday, June 21 at 3:00 pm at SculptureCenter in Long Island City, NYC.

 The Free Skool at the University of Trash announce an Jeffrey S.  Peachey’s presentation titled “The Obsolete Man and the Obsolete Book?” The University of Trash is an experiment in alternative architecture, urbanism, and pedagogy taking place in SculptureCenter’s main space. Throughout the summer there will be a mix of workshops, screenings, and presentations focusing on grass roots, self-organized urbanism, DIY architecture and the evolving aesthetics and politics of public space.

Peachey will screen an original Twilight Zone, “The Obsolete Man”, present a short lecture, then lead a discussion based on some of the issues it raises. Peachey is the owner of a New York City-based studio for the conservation of books.  Because of his experience in examining and treating a wide variety of historic book structures, he is especially interested in how humans have interacted with the physical form of the book over the past 1,600 years, the importance of non-texual information and how the book has acquired such symbolic power.  The images of books in this episode form a locus for a variety of issues—authority, freedom, history, truth, the state, individuality, identity and conformity—that are explored in a classic Serlingesque manner.

 “I am nothing more than a reminder to you that you cannot destroy truth by burning pages.” Romney Wordsworth (Burgess Meredith) declares when the Chancellor (Fritz Weaver) pronounces him obsolete, and then condemns him to death.  Wordsworth, a secret librarian, lives in a room not only surrounded by books, but virtually built out them.  Considering aspects of book conservation, Peachey will deliver a short lecture touching on some of the ideas explored in the film, looking at how books are displayed in Wordsworth’s apartment, commenting on the various book structures portrayed and linking these to themes presented in the episode. Models of several historic book structures will available for handling. Then some more general observations on the value of non-textual elements of books will be made, along with the challenges of conserving these elements.

 This will be followed by an open discussion.  Possible topics include questions about the supposed death of the codex; the importance of non-textual elements in books; books as physical expressions of authority; books as moving, portable hand held sculpture; books as democratic instruments; the display of books as externalized knowledge; hand interaction in reading; and most importantly, how closely is our culture inexorably linked with the history of the book.

 This event is free, and there is a $5 suggested donation to the museum.

 Jeff Peachey:

https://jeffpeachey.wordpress.com/

 SculptureCenter:

http://www.sculpture-center.org/

The University of Trash:

http://www.universityoftrash.org/

 Attendees are encouraged to preview the entire Twilight Zone episode at:

http://www.imdb.com/video/cbs/vi759562265/

 info@universityoftrash.org

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