Ars Electronica 1990
Festival-Program 1990
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Festival 1979-2007


The Imaginary Library
DauerReden — LeseReisen

'Heiko Idensen Heiko Idensen / 'Matthias Krohn Matthias Krohn

In the beginning there was the word.

… it was spoken, danced, sung, loved, doubled, told, knotted, prayed, repeated, recited, forgotten, scratched into, burnt into, painted, chiselled, written, listed in spreadsheets, hidden in magic formulas, printed, bound, edited, pushed aside as marginal, indexed, rhymed, counted, formalized, coded, compiled, saved, scanned, recognized as a pattern, transferred, faxed, encoded, compressed, optimized, transformed, converted, standardized, deleted, linked, overwritten, marked as a departure point, declared to be an object, activated as a program creating words …

The Universe others call a library is composed of an undefined, maybe endless number of interlacing screens. Paths, wide, leading into the depth and accessible only through the activation of certain switches, are encircled by marks on the margins of these leaves of forgotten treasures, from utopias of books written, drawn, and imagined.

The arrangement of the books appearing on the display is never the same, nor is the way the user moves through the various areas of the library.

The book is hitherto the most radical interface for the design of virtual worlds.

All the other machines Man may attach himself to, at present reflect only their own functionality, or let a bored mind enter into sophisticated redundant loops: Brain Machines. They appear as pale specters of a phantasmagorical reading.

On the surface of the imaginary library some copies of books most unusual, most out of the way are realized in a hypertextual program, books that would not be readable in the traditional linear paper book shape.

Regardless of numerous helpful functions, journey aids and guided tours through the labyrinth of the library, the user whom we prefer to call "Voyager"—will not get very far without a minimum of phantasy, reading lust or spirit of adventure.

Reading and thinking can unfold into different directions within the multi-dimensional space of this imaginary library: From each point within the widespread ramifications of the library one may get to higher or lower floors, move on both horizontally and vertically. Within this determined indetermination of wandering, it is not excluded that the reader may get lost, or it is rather desired in some instances.

The imaginary library is no fund of cataloged books. It offers the travelling reader a topography of interesting reading paths, supports him in his daring excursions, producing a cartography of the findings retrieved. If worn out with fatigue, the voyagers are animated, entertained by interviews and poetical puns on words.

Through a special line, interaction with the "agents" of the books is possible: An imaginary theatre of remembrances, where the voyagers communicate with antique and modern authors. This interlocution achieves the quality of a spoken speech.

The authors of the books, however, are not important as authorities or trademarks. They rather must be imagined as labels, as notes printed or scribbled and attached to certain expressions or phrases. With the entrance into the imaginary library, the area of protected Copyright is left.

The imaginary library presents itself as a virtual reading machine—which—if not entangled in a dialogue with the reader—starts a combinatorial continuous speech:

Plato: "He who uses the soulless computer for reading, into his soul there will enter so much forgetfulness, for he will neglect his recollection. By merely relating on the artificial means of storage, Man will remember only through the use of strange, exterior icons, and not more from out of themselves …"

Quickly, I strike a switch to interrupt the limitless speech of the machine against the technologization of the Word. Through a search function, I land upon the index "Library Phantasy".

Foucault: "Something wonderful is evolving on the virtual screen, on which a flock of forgotten words is expanding its light-based letters like viruses… the Imaginary is demurring between the screen and the watchful observation of the reader …"

This shall be copied to the clipboard, to a short-term memory. There, we still retrieve the sentence of an earlier reader:

"The libraries will at last become cities … I have set out on a journey to a book; maybe it was the catalog of catalogs; now, my eyes can barely decipher what I'm writing…."
Ere I start to write, I have a fragment from "Index of Places/Index of Commonplaces" projected on the screen.
Starting from a graphic with strange magic signs, a longer text scrolls by in front of my eyes that—again and again adorned with symbols and images from recollections—takes the shape of an animated sequence, fascinating me so much that I always activate the Repeat-function. Out of the blue, in a small window down left on the screen the Maxwellian Demon appears: "You have obviously caught yourself in an endless loop! Do you want to have some reading aid, or a survey of what you left out? Or do you want to play with me?"

Through "Survey" I get to the representation of a theatre seeming to ramificate into various corridors full of book shelves. I am told that in the Renaissance every intellectual had a brain palace for the storage of speeches and text particles: An early precursor of the imaginary library?

Simonides: "The places chosen for recollection are such that are as vast as possible, full of variations, and easily remembered, so that our thinking may run though all parts of them without hesitating or stopping. Therefore, what has been prepared in writing or thought is reshaped into an expression which is allocated a feature that serves for the stimulation of recollection …"

From the Index of the imaginary library: Archive/Ars Combinatoria/Book Objects/Book of Nature/Book within Book/Catalog of All Books Lost/Copies/Emblematic/Endless Book/Labyrinth/Library Phantasmagories/Listing/Map of A Tale/Memory Theatre/Noah's Ark/Notepad/Paradise Book/Pattern Poetry/Plagiate/Recollection Architecture/Quotations/ Robinson/Scroll /Storage/Space between Texts/Topography of Chance/Typing Error/Universal Library