Another of our kooky new ‘digital’ books about old ideas via Editions at Play. The old idea is that we all see truth in our stories in many different ways. To recast it we repurposed an old story: Ovid’s Pygmalion, which you may know better as My Fair Lady, or Pretty Woman, or Ex Machina. The book is 200 pages long comprising 8 re-tellings of the same 24 page long story.
In our version we also included Ovid’s (possibly confusing) scene setting pages about some tangential communities called the Propoetides and the Cerastae because … well, mainly because they are in his version.
Perhaps we included the Cersatae because I am perversely attached to the original. Who they are doesn’t matter. Why they matter doesn’t matter. But they exist in the story, and so everyone has to deal with their inconvenient existence. None of our authors can change what happens, only how that could be interpreted.
We kept other aspects of the original structure for practical reasons — although abandoned any attempt at poetic form or a translation. It is twisted, multiple messed up retellings of the narrative from 8 different perspectives. Each page covers exactly the same part of the journey, so you can switch easily between those outlooks and move up and down between very different interpretations of the story — just as you might move back and forth along the story-line.
Ovid’s unintentional heroine, Galatea, emerges in Pygmalion’s story — amidst the many wonderful tales of Metamorphosis (first published in 8 AD). This version of Pygmalion is also about a young sculptor who sculpts their own idealised form out of ‘something’, and then falls in love with it, calling it Galatea. Eventually the form itself, through some magic, will change (or metamorphose) into a normative human form. The story itself has been written and rewritten so much that it seemed quite hard to really screw it up. So we re-wrote it an additional 8 times. From 8 completely different points of view: as it might be reported by the press (#failingMSM), or as a true unheard tragedy (#MeToo). I wrote it as a incel might describe an alpha fantasy (#redpill) and with tongue in cheek from a transgender perspective (#PeakTrans). The weakest part is probably the lame chat room, even though it’s meant to be lame (#secretsociety123) and I quite like the Chandler-esque spoof detective report of (#JoeFriday) and the geek out nerdiness of the coded version of Galatea (#DevLife). The last, eighth part was written by George. (#neuralNetwork). George is an #AI (recursive neural network) that KJ Pittl built for this project while at Google. She fed George a lot of Herodotus, Homer, Cicero, Ovid, (and some Catullus for spice). George exists primarily to see what would George would create. Their text makes NO sense whatsoever but it’s peculiarly beautiful. We recommend it as the nearest to poetry of any of the eight. The versions all reflect retellings of the original by brilliant voices of their own. Folk like Ted Hughes in Tales from Ovid, and Carol Ann Duffy in Pygmalion’s Bride, Philostephanus, George Bernard Shaw, Alfred Hitchcock John Hughes, William Gibson, Spike Jones, Gary Marshall, Alex Garland, and many many many other white males.
All good so far.
“But why?” is my favourite question. And yes, there are boring commercial reasons. This is not the place for that. However if you are interested in why, or what makes this interesting to me, well.
I hope it is obvious that We Kiss The Screens is inspired by fake news, alternative truth, chat-rooms, the meme of the social justice warrior, the rebirth of propaganda and the stochastic nature of the real in modern day life. The idea that anything can be true, especially if it is broadcast, especially if it has popularity, or is printed, or simply repeated so often, by so many, that it becomes undeniable. The notion that science is fact, rather than simply the best explanation for physical phenomena currently occurring is often taken for a version of truth. No scientist holds that ‘truth’ exists, that their hypothesis may not be challenged, disproven, no mathematician believes that numbers are inviolable, only that they are beautiful. Subjective thinkers whose belief systems are primarily beautiful and are not evidence-based or even logic-based are often those ‘shouting loudest’ about their ‘truth’.
Ultimately, whoever you wish to agree with, this is all nonsense: after all I reserve the right to argue passionately and unilaterally on behalf of my ‘preferred’ set of values, or ideals, frequently around historic value systems for art and education. But they’re not real. Society can’t maintain this notion of inviolable truths. We are witnessing an ongoing failure to hear, accept and validate so many alternative possibilities, the many voices. We have lost the ability to be different and yet together. The current models of ‘debate’ seem retrograde. So limiting. And it leads to violence. Rhetorical and physical violence, mental, political, economic, emotional violence — the partisanship of bifurcated communities forcing blunt polarisations upon each other with no empathy, no concern, only a modicum of consideration and usually in unsafe spaces for dialogue. So that is what the book is about. Really.
There are bad people on both sides — someone should have said. No one can pretend, today, that this is not the sorry state of post-colonial, post-modern, Western life. Despite knowing better, we force our truth repeatedly upon each other, through every tool at our disposal. This is not done with the righteousness of a just argument (that is fallacy) — but at the frustration of our agency (whether conservative, radical, progressive, or other). Our dogma is not accepted, so we shout louder, hit harder. Meanwhile no one is right. No one has unlimited right to agency over others. Especially another’s beliefs.
This book is about the way literature and art itself remains bound by linear convention.
Routinely presented as a line of frames, a single stage, a set of pages ordered and bound. Life is not like that, reality is not like that, ideas are not like that, digital is not like that — and all of our books in Editions at Play are about illuminating this fact. That non-sequential, non-contiguous, ideological fluid narrative is the nature of life and more contemporary forms are better than the (commercially viable) linearity of traditional artistic practice. It is curious that this is broadly untapped by artists, or perhaps by the supporting infrastructure of the arts, despite the ever-presence of the tools in our hands. This book is about the way literature and art itself remains bound by linear convention. Digital should show more than data. Even data as art. Digital is more than ‘visualising’. It needs to learn to craft truthless ideas, fuzzy notions, shades of life, of love, despair, beauty, grief in all their nuance and complexity; to plumb the shallow depths of human experience. Rather than place us on a distribution curve.
This book doesn’t do that justice of course. Because I wrote it rather fast. But like all the others in the Editions at Play series we hope it shows that we could, and you could, or one can, write about contemporary complexity in modern forms that reflect how our own technology and do not rely on ancient modes of enduring but archaic technology [like seats, or sets, or folios].
Except there’s a twist. Because we like twists. The meta-landscape of the entire Editions at Play has been dominated by the idea of value — as in what makes a book valuable? What is value in a digital age? Ideas we began to discuss a very long time ago in the opening essay up to the recent experiment with value of non-tangible artefacts and the notion of BlockChain-based provenance for ‘editions’. This edition explores the idea of physical value (as opposed to content, or scarcity, or provenance) by creating 250 unique physical, print on demand books (yes, real books) with extensive help from our friends at FE Burman.
Obviously we aren’t just printing the book. Instead we’re giving 250 of them as a gift to our first 250 ‘readers’ as a unique edition bespoke to their choices as they read the book. Partly because we’re rather intrigued about the connection between the stories readers choose to read online and the ones the choose in a printed version — but also whether these books become valuable simply because they ‘exist’. And they will be very unique — There are 5 sextrillion variations (8^24). So, lots of unique.
And that idea of individuality loops us neatly back to the main theme again: everyone’s reality is comprised of a similar medley of multiple perspectives, chosen, ignored, discarded, synthesised. Filtered constantly. Everyday. All night. There are different ways of perceiving the same information, creating alternative readings, alternative realities if not alternative facts. The number of realities we live in makes it amazing we have any common ground at all.
Authors: TL Uglow and George Ai
Editors: Anna Gerber, Britt Iverson, Camilla Brown
Designer: Nina Klein
Developers: Tim Paul, Jude Osborn.
With thanks to: KJ Pittl, Kirstin Sillitoe, Jonny Richards, Andy Berndt, Alison Lord, Samantha Cordingly.
Kirstie Millar and everyone at Visual Editions in London.
Print on Demand made possible by F.E. Burman London and HP Indigo Tel Aviv
Made with the help of Google’s Creative Lab, Sydney
With apologies to our friends and authors who endured the twists and turns of this project. You know who you are. I am SO sorry.
The book is dedicated (with conventionally oblique references) to Katrina Dodd for opening my ears (and for always always always being there) and Vesna Trobec for keeping me here and loving us despite ourselves.