[from Kevin Begos,
Oct. 26, 2002]
It may be too late for your essay, but you may be interested
in the following story about where the idea for Agrippa
came from. Gibson has never claimed credit, but many
popular media articles suggested he "invented"
the idea of a self-destructing text, just as he coined
the word cyberspace.
Gibson was in fact rather lukewarm towards the idea
in the beginning stages, and especially lukewarm towards
the Blanchot/Mallarme influences that played a role
in my coming up with the rough idea.
The condensed version of the story is that Dennis Ashbaugh,
a NYC artist,
had been trying to come up with some collaborative project
to do with
Gibson. At the time I had a small book publishing company,
and was also a
design consultant to the Limited Editions Club of NYC,
a publisher of very
expensive artist/writer collaborations. (Motherwell/Octavio
Rimbaud/Mapplethorpe, DeKooning/O'Hara, etc.).
I had never read any of Gibson's books when I first
met Ashbaugh, but he
asked me to think of possible forms for a collaboration.
Not having read
Gibson, and having little enthusiasm for Ashbaugh, I
didn't get too excited.
But at the very same time I was growing rather disillusioned
Limited Editions Club and its museum/rare book collector
clients. Now, I
love fine books and bindings. But it had gotten so difficult
truly hand-made books that the average price of a Limited
Editions Book was
about $1,000. The bigger ones, like the DeKooning, sold
for $5,000 and up
(this was before the art world crashed in the early
One story was fresh in my mind - from one of the buyers
of the Limited Editions book by Motherwell/Paz. It's
about 18 x 23 inches, probably 30-40 pounds with box,
filled with original lithographs. This buyer had been
so intimidated by the size/weight that she hadn't even
opened the shipping box - she'd shoved the book under
her bed, unopened.
So thinking about Gibson and Ashbaugh,
I had this flash of an idea - do a 'book' on computer
disc that presents collectors and museums with an all-or-nothing
choice: produce a text on computer disc that self-destructs
after one reading. If collectors/museums want a pure
1st edition, that could only be the unread state. If
they choose to read the text, it becomes only a memory,
not a tangible physical object to be bought and sold.
I was particularly happy about the quandary this would
put museums and
collectors in, because how could one even determine
if the disc had been
played, without playing it?
It took a long time to move from the idea stage even
to having Gibson write
the poem - 6 to 9 months, I think. Then, to everyone's
conceptual book started getting a lot of publicity.
Needless to say, turning
the 'idea' into reality was far, far more difficult
than anyone imagined.
Gibson has rightly pointed out that Mallarme/Blanchot
didn't influence him
at all in writing the poem 'Agrippa.' But I had been
involved with printing
some of the early U.S. Blanchot editions, and had been
very influenced by
Mallarme, and such ideas, along with my experience at
the Limited Editions
Club, were the origin of the idea for Agrippa.
Gibson came up with the title 'Agrippa, a Book of the
Dead,' and wrote a
perfect (for the project) poem about memory and loss.
And the whole internet
boom was in the very early stages, and this project
fit right in.
Final note: the project, such a success media-wise,
was a financial disaster
for my small company, and played a major role in driving
me out of book
publishing. It lost a lot of money.