In Peckham a new city has been born. An arched bank of metal on struts covering a shallow stretched flight of steps for gospel singers and pissheads to air themselves on holds off the sky, turns it into barometric colour readings via floodlights, broken. An all slabs and no benches piazza; then the twin homes of the new heartland. Peckham Pulse, a sport and fitness centre and on the other side, the Library and Information Centre.
Libraries in South London are gothic barns with shambolic towers and crumbling steps dished out by Victorian philanthropists like Carnegie and Tate, working class men made good, making good. The new Peckham library is different, this minute’s last word in civic architecture it completes the microcosmic townscape, neo-Peckham: minds to the right, bodies to the left.
Light radiates fly-dust. The card index is polished in finger grease and stray annotations. Books heave in centuries of slow-motion on the sagging shelves as damp swells up their bellies and turns them sour. Newer books are tatty but still legible, although the edge of each page seems to be growing a fine frayed down as dog-ears gradually collapse into seperate fibres. Older books: although they maintain and improve upon their dark brown colour, they have become so fragile that it is necessary for users of the library to refrain from using them to scrape the shit from their shoes. Pages stick together, fat and glutinous as spat rice. Worms suck their way from page to page among the rubbish, burping the letters back out into the wrong place, until eventually the book is entirely re-arranged, or contains words as indigestible as they were when sat in their neighbour.
The Victorian library is a corridor of intestinal novels waiting to be flogged off in an endless clearance of stock that nobody ever wanted. Vegetable landfill in polythened hardback that no-one has the bother to wheelbarrow into the street and put out of their misery amongst the traffic.
Shuffling lurgs, chewing over the racing pages before blowing their jumble sale money on a bet. Children faking through their homework on the off chance that sitting the books in front of them on a desk might get the tedium done with. Preschoolers sniffing out the big picture. Videos of films Costcutter forgot. CD ROMs palmed off of an educational project from the abandoned set of a future functional society.
Every library is oriented around its own version of The King’s Library, the immense black metal armour-glassed column of books plunging downwards through the cream-painted walkways of the British Library. Between the two limbs of Humanities and Science hundreds of books clad in gilded skin grafts are sunk into time, established as the gravitational centre of the collection.
In a hot walk-in cupboard, set behind the librarian’s desk, lit by the red eye of a boiler stand a rack of padlocked chicken cages. Packed until the pages take on the indenture of the steel wire, books not banned but avoided. Books, whilst certainly not uninteresting, are not necessarily of greatest relevance to the library’s regular users. Perhaps it is something else that you are after. A little problem with the cataloguing. The voids in the stacks come back at night, gurning with capital H ‘orror.
All this must be destroyed. The publisher Loompanics once claimed that the way to solve the ‘literacy problem’ in America would be to fill the libraries and schools with their stock: on guns, false identity manufacture, survivalism, political trashing and the many sick, splendid tropes of criminal libertarianism. This however would only be a half-measure. Peckham points the way foward, but stops short. What is required is the complete fusion of the two buildings on either side of the plaza. Reason no longer sleeps. It works out.
One factor previously blocking the convergence of the library and the gym was the separation of two different modes of time, the stored and the synchronic. Similarly, before the invention of the Dancette, sound was experienced as solely being momentary andeffervescent. Afterwards it became subject to recording and preservation – re-hearing. The archive became the new adjunct to the ear.
As the library fuses with the leisure centre, we can expect to see similar developments emerge. This is not simply a question of book-fondlers upgrading their activity to regularised batches of aerobic shockwork or of lifters gargling Wordsworth through their extra milky drinks.
For the user, the memory of the gym is on the one hand that of regimens, schedules, workouts that can be studied and adopted and on the other, of procedural memories trained into place at a neuro-muscular level. Different strokes in swimming, exercises for certain groups of muscles, prescriptions for specific types of movement built into various machines achieve different body shapes and ideals. The memory of the library contains their equivalents: wrote learning as procedural memory actuated in the brain and – the equivalent to manuals and work-out tapes – classificatory systems, disciplines, movements and schools of thought.
One of the first indicators of this new fusion makes itself visible. Around the coffee-scented porticos and foyers of the book megastores, a new form of employment has arisen. For a reasonable price, discreet steerers make themselves available to take the user of the facilities by the elbow and guide them as they leave the premises. In this way readers are able to safely hold a book up to their eyes and maintain their word-count whilst walking down the street. Shattered literateurs can be guaranteed a safe journey home. This again is only a preliminary indicator, that of a collapse in ability for readers to control their compulsion in the face of its immanent supercession. It is not enough for libraries to compete for the biggest water-slide.
Two indicators of progression toward the next stage:
One Semantically rigid word associations, comprehension tests, handwriting exercises, regulated and measured reading = school.
Learning is no longer modelled on play, skipping from bough to bough of Mother Nature’s underskirts to find the big sugar letters; pin-point cross-sectioned fact in big colour pages; lost number information. Instead, sing, kneel, stand, pray, remember, close your eyes, look upwards, sit, write, read, do SATs. The reading culture of the Haggadah goes even further: the nod, nod, nod, nod, not simply of obedience but of physically knocking the word into the head.
Two Rowing machines with bitmap graphic displays allow you to race your boat picture against the shark picture: quick row faster, help, here it comes, oh no, speech bubbles. Structured exercise is no longer a question of readouts, lap-meters, speeds, but of an imaginal dimension, not simply of super-localised multi-player physique utopias but of narratives built into the machine. Ostensibly only for tedium roll-back.
Another first step is being taken in the opposite direction to that of the hire-steerers. Silent reading is too private. It is as undemocratic as the academic lecture where some fool stands doing his silent reading out loud to an audience of students that cannot respond. Written or printed texts used to route themselves directly to the mouth, so that they could be read aloud (rather than silently) in order to be understood by the ear – and thence the mind. The word must be expelled by the body and loudly in order for it to be able to re-enter as thought. Whilst we must immediately applaud the increase in self-talk evident in both libraries and gyms, the grunts, mutters and cussing of self-encouragement along with the useful practice of speaking back to books, eventually we aim for a society where there will be no language independent of physiological feedback and no form of bodily movement that escapes inscription.
Contracts, commands, slogans, spells and other inscriptions that entail the carrying out of certain actions supply a reservoir of primitive forms in language that are enriched already by the physicality of breeding between texts. Walk into a library with each footnote a live link, each citation books talking to, against or across each other. Think of the space constructed by these links, the relatively closed disciplinary worlds, densely interlinked microcosms, sudden haemorrhages of formation, drives and concepts, links across vastly disparate areas, non-reciprocal links, splits, subsumations. This topology of link and command, sample and compulsion needs to become thickened.
Although bogged down by Jungian nick-nacks and an overweening urge to educate, the work of ‘new media’ artists often includes aerobicising interfaces, exercise bikes, location sensors as a means of accessing representational sequences. They appear to have learned much from the short textual elements on street furniture. Memorial chairs have become supplemented by sponsorable bins (everywhere), bollards (Hyde Park) and memorial planks for piers (Southend), and mezzanines (River Taff, Cardiff). This is paratext without text or subtext, words, names, appearing for the sake of it. We are merely expected to read, clock the fact that know nothing of what is written, note that it is written in the expected minutely prescribed, character limited format. Any interest or comprehension is pre-empted, we merely have to process.
This is welcome and must be expanded. An initial form might adopt such minute and repetative elements of text within the physical substrate of text-processing. Loops, already familiar through machined forms such as music have become massively more available and propitious with digitisation. Games, website animations, all contain them. What is most suggestive however is the dependence upon loops with variations found in genetic engineering.
A future class of homeless people designed to serve as public street conveniences was bred by QQM Therapeutics for a consortium of London Local Authorities and the Greater London Authority. Of the 550 homeless people eggs injected with the hybrid DNA, 499 survived. When they were transplanted into surrogate mothers, only 112 babies were born, just five of which had incorporated the correct gene into their DNA. Of these, only three developed suitably recessed soft palates, two of who were also unable to unlock their jaw in the required manner. Only one of the homeless babies is the “sheep that lays the golden eggs.”
If, as theorists of uses and gratifications suggest, we take each of these iterations of the introduction of this DNA as a ‘reading’ of potential effects, and each iteration of the breeding programme as a re-occurence of a loop, we can see how much room for variance and ‘subversion’ of the intended reception of the DNA loop there is. Potentially therefore, the closer libraries move towards laboratories, the greater the degree of cultural progress to be expected.
We demand books that are convivial and healthful, that must be read more quickly than you can think. Sauna texts, heat you up into a daze, bring blood to the skin and ease sweet and filth out of expanded pores. Books that are the equivalent of a decompression tank, that set bubbles of snot off hissing and cracking in the sinuses. Books composed entirely of phobia triggers.
Certain currents within scientific practice are expected to align themselves far more closely and openly as things move into the next stage. The secret history of every medium is its initial rapid development as a vehicle for pornography. The invention in the late 1980s of the Scanning Tunnelling Microscope at IBM’s research laboratories in Zurich is no exception. The STM gives scientists a window onto the atomic world, letting them visualise and manipulate single atoms or molecules. With an atomically sharp tip of metal held precisely over a surface, the topography of the surface is sensed by the minute current of tunnelling electrons that flows between the surface and the tip. Rastering the tip back and forth creates a picture of the hills and valleys on the surface.
In such a manner, we envisage a time when a variety of narrative forms can be installed at a neural level. Mathematical memory exercises often provide a useful cover task in these cases – the counting sequences used by body builders, of sets, repetitions, of pauses between repetitions or sets. Each number equals one inhalation and one exhalation. Subjects can be enhanced with the ability to execute a fixed set of processes: channelling an infinite exponential function; streaming pi in tongues to the two-thousandth place; which either known or unbeknown to them can be used as a front channel for the installation of dialogue sequences selected from any type of literary output. When subjects demonstrate a high level of narrative uptake they can be moved on to higher levels of difficulty and motivation in the front-channel tasks. Computer-monitored production of a random sequence of numbers with rewards or pedagogical advice delivered by an array of electrical contacts fitted to the body offers a potentially optimal method of delivery. Used in combination with these treatments, the STM allows reader-by-reader copy-editing to take place at an atomically precise level within brain tissue.
Away with memory. In Peckham, we no longer need to go to the building marked in big steel letters with LIBRARY to read. The capacity of art to alleviate fact is what takes us there in the first place. The culture of the Library, of art, is the cult of the untrue, generated in some nervous excretion to make bearable the onslaught of fact generated by science and by the cybernetic the boo-day. At the same moment, as the two limbs of the library collapse into each other, fact is scooped up, databased, and marked for fantasms of renewal in computer farms.
In Peckham, when the crowds stand astride the piazza designed by Fred Manson, the London Borough of Southwark’s energetic head of planning, waiting, in their wrastling lyotards and fight-pumps, in their revenue enhancement garms, in their urge-protected streetwears, waiting for the moment of impact as the two colossal buildings rush together into some ectoplasmic moment of destiny, there are tens of thousands of minute robots scurrying around the assembled mass. They drain lymph, sample blood, scrape saliva, tease and scrunch-dry hair and feed a full sky-load of satellites’ band-width live updates of human evolutionary progress being actuated in SE15’s memo-genetic hot-zone directly into the landscaped research parks of the National Criminal Intelligence database and the Human Genome Project. The chromosome sequences are available as printouts from one of the many side-booths too – and do they make a read or what?