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Zac Zimmer – An Internet Built of Books

March 8, 2023 @ 12:15 pm - 1:30 pm  |  Humanities 1, Room 210


On the Internet, the book is a drag: a literal metaphor that pulls us back to the material world. This talk focuses on three examples of the book-object’s material drag on the supposed ephemeral nature of online existence in the digital cloud: 1) Philip Zimmermann and MIT Press’ PGP Source Code and Internals (1995), a printed edition of the source code that forms the basis of all email cryptography; 2) William Gibson’s self-destructing cyberpoem Agrippa (1992), a literary work that uses pseudo-cryptography to subvert print culture and which, by producing an art object consumed (annihilated, even) within its reading, recovers a lyrical past against the drag of the future; and 3) The Wu-Tang Clan’s single-copy album Once Upon a Time in Shaolin (2015), which by subverting the democratic nature of art, works against the drag of a speculative art market. The moral of each of these bookworks resides within the materiality of the object. What makes these three examples illustrative is that they all deal—in one way or another—with cryptography. In other words: the book’s secret, which is, in the end, nothing other than the book’s inescapable materiality, even in the digital era.

foot on letter zZac Zimmer is Associate Professor of Literature at UCSC. His research focuses on the interdisciplinary study of literature, culture and technology in the hemispheric Americas. In addition to his current research on the infrastructure of technosystems, he co-facilitates the Ethics & Astrobiology reading group, part of UCSC’s Astrobiology Initiative. His book First Contact: Speculative Visions of the Conquest of the Americas is forthcoming.

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The Center for Cultural Studies hosts a weekly Wednesday colloquium featuring work by faculty and visitors. We gather at 12:00 PM, with presentations beginning at 12:15 PM.

Staff assistance is provided by The Humanities Institute.


March 8, 2023
12:15 pm - 1:30 pm


Humanities 1, Room 210
1156 high st
Santa cruz, CA 95060 United States
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