CONJUNCTIONS: A Web Exclusive
New Technologies of Reading
Angela Woodward



One)    3-D Printing

Hard to say if the reading process is at all improved by this, but the figurines exude a degree of charm. These are produced not on a flat substrate but in three dimensions in successive layers: The ink is substrate and substance in one. The pieces with a religious purpose—eight million iterations of “God Is Good” extruded letter by letter and formed into a little stand-up Jesus—should remain tourist items. I was given a Santeria saint with her heart in her hands, which unfolds into a spell for binding love. From this incantation was designed and printed a splint made of the same biocompatible material that goes into sutures. The lettering was so faint I had to draw my face quite close, where I was overwhelmed by the stink of the paper. The vibrant turquoise favored by the beach shops still holds a few random filaments, liver cells, scraps of endothelial membrane, an acrylic liquid that hardens when exposed to ultraviolet light.

      Efforts to engineer tissues and organs have been similarly hampered by two-dimensional constraints. When will someone go the other way and print a book the size of a building? The central story blazes with neon like the main drag of a midsize town adorned on both sides with used car lots. Unpaved roads made from nylon powder lead off into unpromising plot developments. Precisely melted, they solidify into a filigree pattern. Dense, dendritic lanes dead-end at a silt-laden canal. In the next volume, a grain silo, a railroad bridge, a bowling alley, a laundromat. Vast distances between them and the intimate, interior world of the microscope.

      The process comes closest to fulfilling its promise in the wildlife series put out by Tasso. The text interlaces the natural history of the animal with its genetic code, or so says the accompanying booklet (with a scan of the reader’s wound, to determine how it might be fixed over time). Would there be blood beneath the fur? Would turning its pages wrench cartilage out of joint? Such a fantasy could be entertained at least. My squirrel erupted from its plastic packaging and began chattering from the window ledge. At first entirely lifelike, after a few days the cartoonish flatness of its eyes gave it away. Bone cells on polymer scaffolds eventually collapsed. By that time, I wondered what I had ever seen in it. It was so false and so removed from any version of “habitat” that I felt ashamed for both of us. Later that evening I changed my shirt, and felt the heat of the discarded garment in my hands.







Two)    Condensed Books

I’ve learned to avoid the pill versions. These are simply too strong. Often slow to take effect, suddenly the reader is drawn into an improbable romance involving a spy, a dermatology clinic, a girls’ camp by a lake. The smell of the old Reader’s Digest triple editions pervades the action, a clammy, mildewed dinginess at odds with the overall glitz. Note too that only the most staid of novels are available in this format, so that one feels violently ill and hallucinated while reinforcing gender roles long outgrown: his stubbly cheeks, the swish of her hair, the rewarded patience of the passive beauty. The last time, I woke up with my head throbbing, my mouth dry, carpet burns on my hips. I thought I could ingest a self-reflective arctic brooding, but it was all the most generic lust, him on top ruffling my bangs and calling me “baby.”

      The charcoal versions I find fascinating, though also incomplete. I was ushered into one of the private rooms above Powells and given something the shape of a pencil box. The mechanism on the side ignites the contents. The reader controls the amount of fumes by opening or closing the lid. I let too much escape all at once. Before I had comprehended the complexity of the narrative, it had crumbled. I prodded the ashes and got only a few last puffs, goodbye, Sidney, I will carry your … it’s all so … refugee camp  … two sisters … less able to … . built itself over the river, and was just as quickly razed by the … all confused in gray swirls of languid euphoria. The material once combusted can’t be revisited. This series makes use of mostly forgotten novels from the 1930s and ’40s, many of them from the outskirts of the empire, the plight of the indigenous, the abuse of youth, religious minorities, other topics ancillary to the perpetuation of our culture and all the more poignant for being rendered in this disposable format. A girl wandered into … and was at once accepted by the community. On recovering her memory, she  … birches, bird song, the calls of frogs … and was swept downstream. Why does my hand feel so heavy? Dry clicks of the eyelids. Enlarged tongue. Painful swellings, probably boils, accompanied by panic and a feeling of uselessness. Over the period of one brief coughing fit, the rest of the manuscript disintegrated.

      today’s inventiveness in delivery modes

      those who remain nostalgic for the stable trailing of the finger over the

      whisper and hiss of the paper falling, the physical decline in the width of what remains to be read while the already read fattens behind

      fear to express what could be labeled instantly as antagonistic to possibilities not yet imagined

      still secure in the

      The latest in the trend is the notorious club version. I had my doubts too. To be lost in the strands of a mother’s grief, the slow interpolation of relationships so that the good have become weak and the mean-spirited have shown their integrity, the fascination with the reader’s own self as she persists with this fruitless intertwining of the writer’s fiction with her life’s trajectory—and yet, at the end, the swift blow to the side of the head was the most rewarding of all. In that moment of impact, stars blossomed inside my brain, pinwheels of light in colors of an intensity not available in nature, and the sense of being with her, the wielder, as she reared back and struck

      Thousands of splinters radiated from the wound, some driving deep within, some scattering and lying golden and green in that same carpet where I’d







Three)    Salve, Drone

attempt to allow the reader to virtually inhabit the skin of … resulting in third degree burns on my arms. Luckily I had gone too fast at first, and only a little bit was left when it came to my thighs. The rash stopped short of the vulva, but still spent several prickly evenings as it hardened, then practically waltzed me … smell of gasoline over the road now mingled with the more acrid … eventually scaled off like sunburn, leaving flakes all over the floor

      transferred to a “black site” where he was shaved, placed in a “hanging” stress position and subjected to fifty-nine hours of sleep deprivation after which … “mild paralysis” … “legs and feet began” … “back and abdomen spasming” … “premature” heart beats and … provided fabricated, inconsistent, and generally unreliable information

      In this case my advice is to wait, as the new iterations come out so much “improved” from each other that they hardly resemble members of the same line. One of the earliest was put on like a raincoat. It crackled with the reader’s movements and was only audible while lying in deathlike stillness. I turned over in bed and the voice, so private and interior, was instantly drowned out by the friction of my hair against the blanket. The next was more of a wearable boombox, wires all up and down the sleeves and poking into slits in the sternum. I remember one July afternoon witnessing a couple reading this way in the middle of Tenney Park Beach, a ring of teenagers receding from the tinny outpouring of whatever mechanistic poetry issued from the sheathing. From these garment-like contraptions to the salve is a leap I can hardly fathom and if not for the packaging, the familiar blaring cobalt

      central question of whether the intent is to block out the world news or to seal the reader into her own

      so-called “rectal feeding.” They only began to express their outrage when the executive summary was published. “I can’t imagine there being a good day to release this kind of document,” she told the committee, when as a matter of fact the contents were such common knowledge that Hollywood script writers had already dined out on them through a decade of award cycles.

      Unable to get past the barrier, the traffic backed up for four miles. He leaned against the side of the jeep, until the sound of the girl in the Toyota

      after which he began hallucinating … back and neck spasming … arms and legs locked in “mild paralysis” and

      The next edition came with a special tool for scraping it off the skin once read. This operation, however, was so distressing and frankly worked so poorly that I went back to clawing it off with my bare fingers. The sound of the steel, the shape of the blade, and that it occasionally drew blood, while fragments of the text remained embedded in my elbow creases

      called it “rectal feeding” and expected this little two-word pad to stave off the legal associations with rape and starvation, which it so neatly combined.

      books from the legacy collection put in “dark storage,” where they can be accessed via

      as illustrated in this passage: the light that travels lengthwise under the cover of the copy machine, the light that leaps out if the lid is lifted too soon, the light that bounces off the page and obscures the type, the light behind the eyes with the cessation of the optical

      Even though the executive summary had been heavily redacted, most of the identities of the sites had been known for years. For example, two law suits by … and named Poland, the Polish government, and  … “They deserve a lot of praise,” he replied. “As far as I’m concerned, they ought to be decorated, not criticized.” Other practices used to “extract information” referred to … such information likened to honey or sludge, given a palpability that related then to this tightening coat of

      voice that had seemed so private and interior interrupted by the amplified friction of the skin against the cot



The other series I’ve more recently been introduced to is the drone edition. The first one sent to me failed to rise above the level of my shoulder, and directed its monotonous recitation towards the floor. “He leaned against the side of the jeep, until the sound” came out much like the emanations of a geopositioning device, including the English accent and quirky stressing of final syllables. My neighbor’s boys booted it around when I was done with it. It got stuck in the crab apple, where it lodged for weeks until it was either stolen or destroyed by weathering. On one of those freezing nights, the engineer heard the girl in the Toyota sobbing softly. The ones released in time for last year’s holiday gift season were in contrast too small, and managed their attachment to the reader’s ear much too persistently. The gnat-like volume followed me from room to room, buzzing the tale of … erotic in its intensity

      fear of them spreading, mutating wildly and then infecting broader communities heretofore untouched by the contagion of the word. The light released when the cover is lifted midscan, the light reflected off the page to blur the type, the voice, at first so interior and private that it was erotic in its intensity now amplified to

      “enhanced interrogation methods” paled beside the stark descriptions of not only the equipment in the room but the ulcers on the skin and the contusions mapped below

      the one that now hovers at an immense distance, locked onto my signal. I am unable to see, hear, or understand it, yet to escape the devotion of its ceaseless surveillance is

      acrid smell of the burned flesh could not be wiped away, only masked by the chlorine. On one of those freezing nights, the engineer heard the girl in the Toyota sobbing softly. The whole stretch of highway was ultimately bulldozed and all photos and documents deleted from the server



Angela Woodward is the author of the collection The Human Mind and the novel End of the Fire Cult. Her collection Origins and Other Stories won The Collagist’s 2014 prose chapbook competition and will be out from Dzanc in 2016. Her novel Natural Wonders, also forthcoming in 2016, was the winner of the 2015 Fiction Collective Two Catherine Doctorow Innovative Fiction Prize.