Masaki Fujihata: Beyond Pages

  • ©1996, Masaki Fujihata



    Beyond Pages


Creation Year:




Artist Statement:

    This essay describes future perspectives toward knowl­edge by comparing two typical inventions in history: the inven­tion of type-setting and the invention of digitizing tech­nology for archiving.

    The continuity of knowledge is part of human evolution. Language appears to be the first medium for knowledge. It has been developed into characters, fonts, or images that help people to express knowledge or information more concretely. These vehi­cles of information have been collated in “books”, which are the current basis of maintained knowledge. Recently, these old-fashioned vehicles for knowledge have been influ­enced by a new, more interac­tive and dynamic way of expression: the computer-­networked environment. The goal of Beyond Pages is to present a new way of convey­ing knowledge that will survive into the future.

    The evolution of visual repro­duction in the 20th century has enhanced people’s way of recognizing the world, or rec­ognizing expression, even to the extent of creating a new paradigm. We can no longer limit ourselves to knowledge arranged in the form of books. For example, today moving images or sounds can be collated easily via digital for­mats. The easy-to-categorize, easy-to-edit digital environ­ment is becoming more and more useful in our current world. Still, there are some similarities between the old “typesetting” and the new “dig­itizing”. From this point of view, it is legitimate to under­stand “multimedia” more as a variant of the “book” than as a variant of a “movie”.

    Gutenberg’s invention of type-setting was an unexpected shock in Western cultural history. It was recorded as a significant event because it deconstructed words into letters, a process that did not exist within previous cultural common sense. Essentially, the letter, prior to this, could only exist in relation to and within the flow of words or sentences. Actual type, or the deconstruc­tion of words into individual letters, could be used repeat­edly, and could be reproduced. However, the unreproducibility of meaning within certain contexts became a danger with the invention of type.

    Actually, metal type was invented in Korea in the 14th century, before Gutenberg’s invention, but this has never been accepted as an epoch-­making event. Historians assume that this development is not celebrated because the letters were Chinese characters. Since Chinese characters are pictorial, even one type, which is the minimum element of the written language, can exist without losing its meaning. On the other hand, the lndo-­European alphabet consists of phonetic characters. There is hardly any distinction between them. After all, there are only 26 letters, and each one does not possess a beauty beyond its shape. In contrast to ideo­graphic characters, which maintain their meaning through their shape, phonetic characters, which only indicate sounds, take on a completely different meaning in type. The phonetic letter does not maintain any significance or concept except that through the strength of the writer, the human element, fragmented type is brought together as text.

    Gutenberg’s invention had such a dramatic impact because of the nature of the alphabet. In the end, it was more than just a technological invention. It was an event that shook the culture of knowl­edge itself. In other words, the revolution in printing tech­nology in Western history was the deconstruction of voice into the minimum unit of type, making it possible to transport it to a location that voice could not ordinarily reach.

    The evolution of digital media in our current age inherits this technological reformation. The basis of digital technology is the computer. In order to match all information to the data format of the computer, the subject matter must be expressed as either on or off. Fundamentally, there is no dif­ference between this and the fact that words were decon­structed into minimum units by the invention of type. Any new medium that utilizes a com­puter deconstructs informa­tion, not just letters but images and sounds, with new means. The computer is used to deconstruct, reconstruct, and edit the information. The gram­mar and principles, however, are still undeveloped.

    In this new world, neither the effort to know nor methods for learning are as developed as in the book world, where the written word and knowledge are synonymous. In order to create a starting point for these ideas, it is necessary to disman­tle books in a variety of ways. What is the function of the book? First of all, there is the content of the book. Then, there is an interface to access the content, and there is a function that does not include the materiality of the book as a medium. As we eliminate the functions of the book, its mate­riality is revealed. The isolated object that remains is like the brain of an amnesiac. It is, however, important to look at its appearance.

    The book has an all-encom­passing potential. The ability to experience unbounded potential is what we call “imag­ination”. When entirety is packed into a real book, it explodes. All at once, informa­tion creates chaos. A book becomes a book only after being edited. The editing forms the story, which can then be transmitted more efficiently. It is in a huge irreplaceable white space that the story, or content, is unfolded. The letters with their shapes are converted to sounds in the brain and regenerated.

    We, however, living in our modernity, cannot read The Divine Comedy as Dante did, or The Tale of Genji as Murasaki Shikibu did.  They are preserved as mere lines of letters that have lost their own context. Although content can be modi­fied to go from medium to medium, sometimes being dis­tributed as cassette tape and sometimes as CD-ROM, there nevertheless is a world that can only be transmitted through the feel and mass of a book. The narrative or content might stand on a fragile tightrope. The story is an incarnation of an imagination that quietly arises in the reader’s brain. The action of reading is accom­plished with an interface, or book. It is realized only through an important relationship with physicality and should be inter­active in real time. In other words, it is a memory device so that time can be jointly owned with the reader. It is an inter­face that can cross from page to page, and can physically grasp a field as distance.

    The book is diffusion material prepared by humans in order to connect between brains. Books are duplicated. As they are duplicated, they move around the world and are dispersed as media. The word “media”, however, has only recently begun to be widely used through an expansion of its original meaning. It is a quite recent discovery that the human body, too, is a medium for transporting knowledge.

    We have been able to make our memory exist externally with media. It enables us to memo­rize, categorize, and retrieve events that are difficult to describe by language alone. It is a fertile land for producing a new encyclopedia, a new world map, or even a new bible. With digital media, we can go Beyond Pages.

Affiliation Where Artwork Was Created:

    Keio University