The Readies: Book Description
Writing in 1930, the avant-garde author Bob Brown predicted that the printed book was bound for obsolescence. The time has come, he insisted, to “rid” the reader “at last of the cumbersome book, the inconvenience of holding its bulk, turning its pages, keeping them clean.” His proposed replacement, a reading machine, would serve as a first step in a burgeoning technological revolution. His “machine” would print type “microscopically by the new photographic process on a transparent tough tissue roll no bigger than a typewriter ribbon” that would unroll “beneath a narrow strip of strong magnifying glass.”
Eventually, due to the breakneck speed of progress, one would be able to “radio” readies (Brown’s term for prose and poetry delivered by his machine) as easily “as it is today to [produce] newsies on shipboard and words perhaps eventually will be recorded directly on the palpitating ether.” Brown printed only 150 copies of his manifesto, entitled The Readies, along with a sample story for his machine. The story featured the kind of “smashum” words, condensed anagrams, portmanteau words, and visual designs in which the "hermaphroditic hypodermic hyphen" replaces unnecessary words and chops up overlong ones. "I know words can do anything, become anything,” Brown wrote, “all I hold out for is more and better reading of the words we've got . . . reading will have to be done by machine; microscopic type on a movable tape running beneath a slot equipped with a magnifying glass and brought up to life size before the reader's birdlike eye, saving white space, making words more moving."
Nearly eighty years later, in the age of text messaging and Twittering, Brown’s manifesto takes on a prophetic aura that is almost shocking—not only for its prescience, but for the underlying playful and mournful sense that something profound (and profoundly exciting, profoundly mysterious, profoundly dangerous, profoundly promising) was happening to the relationship between the reader’s attention span and the writer’s output. A work that was equal parts satire, Jeremiad, and enthusiastic prediction casts a fascinating light on the present-day technological revolution in reading and writing devices, and their attendant effect on the act of reading itself. In his illuminating Introduction to this volume, noted scholar Craig Saper places Brown and his work in the context of his time, and highlights the degree to which Brown worked with and influenced such noted artists and writers as Marcel Duchamp (a close friend), James T. Farrell, Kay Boyle, e.e. cummings, and Ezra Pound. Saper’s act of excavation and elucidation could not be more timely, as Brown now appears to have foreseen almost exactly the devices and practices revolutionizing the business of reading and writing in our time.
About the Editor
Craig Saper is Professor and Director of the Language, Literacy, and Culture Ph.D. Program at UMBC in Baltimore, Maryland, USA. He is the author of Intimate Bureaucracies (2012), Networked Art (2001), and Artificial Mythologies (1997) and has edited or co-edited volumes on Posthumography (2010), Imaging Place (2009), and Drifts (2007). He has published widely on Fluxus and visual poetry and serves as the Reviews Editor and Blog Report columnist for Rhizomes and Hyperrhiz: New Media Cultures
His curatorial projects include exhibits on Assemblings (1997), Noigandres: Concrete Poetry in Brazil (1988), and TypeBound (2008), and folkvine.org (2003-6). In addition, he has published two other pamphlets On Being Read (1985) and Raw Material (2008). Saper originally published editions of Bob Brown's Words (2009) and Readies (2009) with Rice University Press. Presently, he is writing a biography of the poet-publisher-impresario-writer in every imaginable genre, Bob Brown, who invented an avant-garde reading machine.