Agrippa (a Book of The Dead) - Release and Replication

Release and Replication

OK, sit down and pay attention. We’re only going to say this once. —William Gibson, National Public Radio, December 9, 1992.

The work was premiered on December 9, 1992 at The Kitchen, an art space in Greenwich Village, New York City. The performance—known as "The Transmission"—consisted of the public incomplete reading of the poem by illusionist Penn Jillette, recorded and simultaneously transmitted to several other cities. The poem was inscribed on a sculptural magnetic disk which had been vacuum-sealed until the event's commencement, and was programmed to erase itself upon exposure to air. Contrary to numerous colourful reports, neither this disk nor the diskettes embedded in the artist's book were ever actually hacked in any strict sense.

Academic researcher Matthew Kirschenbaum has reported that a pirated text of the poem was released the next day on MindVox, "an edgy New York City-based electronic bulletin board". Kirschenbaum considers Mindvox, an interface between the darknet and the global Internet, to have been "an ideal initial host". The text spread rapidly from that point on, first on FTP servers and anonymous mailers and later via USENET and listserv email. Since Gibson did not use email at the time, fans sent copies of the pirated text to his fax machine.

The precise manner in which the text was obtained for MindVox is unclear, although the initial custodian of the text, known only as "Templar" attached to it an introductory note in which he claimed credit. Begos claimed that a troupe of New York University students representing themselves as documentarians attended The Transmission and made a videotape recording of the screen as it displayed the text as an accompaniment of Jillette's reading. Kirschenbaum speculates that this group included the offline persona of Templar or one of his associates. According to this account, ostensibly endorsed by Templar in a post to Slashdot in February 2000, the students then transcribed the poem from the tape and within hours had uploaded it to MindVox. However, according to a dissenting account by hacktivist and MindVox co-founder Patrick K. Kroupa, subterfuge prior to The Transmission elicited a betrayal of trust which yielded the uploaders the text. Kirschenbaum declined to elaborate on the specifics of the Kroupa conjecture, which he declared himself "not at liberty to disclose".

Agrippa owes its transmission and continuing availability to a complex network of individuals, communities, ideologies, markets, technologies, and motives. Only in the most heroic reading of the events … is Agrippa saved for posterity solely by virtue of the knight Templar. … Today, the 404 File Not Found messages that Web browsing readers of Agrippa inevitably encounter … are more than just false leads; they are latent affirmations of the work’s original act of erasure that allow the text to stage anew all of its essential points about artifacts, memory, and technology. “Because the struggle for the text is the text.”

Kirschenbaum, Matthew G., "Hacking ‘Agrippa’: The Source of the Online Text", The Agrippa Files.

On December 9, 2008 (the sixteenth anniversary of the original Transmission), "The Agrippa Files", working with a scholarly team at the University of Maryland, released an emulated run of the entire poem (derived from an original diskette loaned by a collector) and an hour's worth of "bootleg" footage shot covertly at the Americas Society (the source of the text that was posted on MindVox).

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