My friend Ina Ferris has been thinking a lot lately about the relationship between books and remnants — the way books were integral during the nineteenth century to think about how cultural forms and practices persist past their time. The book was itself already seen as a vestige during the Romantic period, in the form of manuscript books or so-called “black-letter books.” In this most book-saturated of eras, the book also stood for a sign of a remainder, of being out of sync. It’s one of the ways I’ve been thinking more and more about how Romanticism was not just about learning to “dream in books,” but also the beginning of the imagination of the book’s own end.
A recent exhibit in Montreal got me thinking more about this issue of media remains. It was designed by the group, Atomic3, and was called “Éclats de verre.” In it they constructed a field of colored panes of glass in the heart of the city that were meant to symbolize a giant shattered stained-glass window reorganized into an immersive maze and visual spectacle. It was their way of thinking about the very strong religious roots of the city (there is still a giant cross with lights atop the mountain in the middle of the city for those not familiar with it). For me, it was a nice way of thinking about vestiges of mediation, the way forms of communing with others at a distance persist well past their widespread functionality — or perhaps the way they assume different, more dispersed functions.
Shattered glass seemed like a nice metaphor to think about what happens to technologies over time, far better than narratives of birth and death.