September 29, 2005


User: InfoTechnoDemo. By Peter Lunenfeld. Visuals by Mieke Gerritzen. MIT Press. $25.95.

     Every once in a while, MIT Press puts out a book that is every bit as forward-looking as MIT’s famed engineering school, and every bit as offbeat as the notorious pranks that the school’s students are known for perpetrating.  User: InfoTechnoDemo, a sort of visual implosion/explosion in the form of a paperback, is one such book.

     What’s it about?  That is both easy and hard to say.  The easy part is that this is collection of essays written by Peter Lunenfeld for the magazine artext.  The hard part is that the words, even when they are coherent and pointed – as is sometimes but not always the case – are not the main means of expression here, or the main thing expressed.  What is expressed is difficult to pin down.  One page contains only a stylized picture of a squared-off bottle and the two words, “FOR EVER.”  Another is bright yellow, has the numbers “25/8” repeated along the top, and contains only the underlined and capitalized words, “HOW ARE WE INTERNALIZING VELOCITY?”  The word “HOW” is in larger type than the rest.

     Another page has a rainbow-colored background with text that looks more typical/ordinary.  Among the statements here is, “Although some ardent youngsters (and not-so-youngsters, unfortunately) protest that something as commercially ‘tainted’ as the professional practice of design has nothing to say to artists like themselves, the impact of contemporary graphics is indisputable.”

     It is certainly indisputable in this book.  There’s a red-white-and-blue-striped page with some graphics of CDs in the middle and a comic-strip-style balloon at the bottom, discussing Andy Warhol as “Saint Andy.”  There’s a black-white-red-and-yellow-striped page that repeatedly gives the word “USER” on one line and the words “PERMANENT PRESENT” on the next.  There’s a page with a skull and crossbones at the top and a spider containing a crossed hammer and wrench at the bottom, with the single word “ANTHROPOMORPHOMETRIC” above everything.

     Clearly, this is a book not to read in a traditional way but to experience – and at $25.95 for a standard-size, 172-page paperback, it’s one you really have to want to experience if you plan to buy it.  The table of contents tells what the essays are about, albeit cryptically: “Solitude Enhancement Machines,” “Visual Intellectuals,” “Growing Up Pulp,” “Wireless Cosmopolitans,” and so on.  But the essays without the graphics would have far less (or far different) impact, and the graphics without the essays would be meaningless.  This is a work not of mixed media but of intermingled media, and one of those books that – as with some of the pranks of MIT students – you’ll either enjoy or you won’t.  PERIOD.

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