"Given the printing process I’ve used, you can’t take in more than one word per century. That’s even slower than reading Proust.”
San Francisco conceptual artist and journalist Jonathon Keats is trying to rejuvenate literature in the age of hyperspeed media by writing a story that will take a millennium to tell.
The catch? The story, printed on the cover of the recently released Infinity issue of Opium Magazine, is only nine words long.
“I’m interested in exploring deep time,” the thought experimentalist and Wired contributor explained in an e-mail to Wired.com during a visit to Europe, where he is probably concocting a scheme to wormhole Paris or something.
“Like most people, I live my life in a rush, consuming media on the run,” said Keats, who has copyrighted his mind, tried to pass a Law of Identity and attempted to genetically engineer God.
“That may be fine for reading the average blog,” he said, “but something essential is lost when ingesting words is all about speed. My thousand-year story is an antidote. Given the printing process I’ve used, you can’t take in more than one word per century. That’s even slower than reading Proust.”
The printing process in question is a simple but, as usual with Keats, pretty clever idea. The cover is printed in a double layer of standard black ink, with an incrementally screened overlay masking the nine words. Exposed over time to ultraviolet light, the words will be appear at different rates, supposedly one per century.
“The precise quantity of ink covering each word is different, so that the words will appear one at a time,” Keats said. “Provided that your copy of Opium is kept out in the open, and regularly exposed to sunlight over 1,000 years to be read progressively by the next dozen or so generations. Or very, very slowly if you happen to be Ray Kurzweil.”
The odds are very good that Keats’ brainy game will outlive print itself, at least as far as magazines are concerned. But will the pages of Opium last long enough for his story to be told?
“The high-quality acid-free paper on which Opium is printed will certainly last that long,” Keats answered. “Whether humankind will, of course, remains an open question.”