April 05, 2011

The Xenotext Experiment of Christian Bök

Bacterium as poem
An Interview with Christian Bök [PDF]. Explanation of project Video 1, Video 2. More Videos.
"I have conceived of The Xenotext Experiment, a literary exercise that explores the aesthetic potential of genetics in the modern milieu, doing so in order to make literal the renowned aphorism of William S Burroughs, who declared “the word is now a virus.” In this experiment, I propose to address some of the sociological implications of biotechnology by manufacturing a “xenotext” – a beautiful, anomalous poem, whose “alien words” might subsist, like a harmless parasite, inside the cell of another life-form...."

I propose to encode a short verse into a sequence of DNA in order to implant it into a bacterium, after which I plan to document the progress of this experiment for publication. I also plan to make related artwork for subsequent exhibition.

I plan to compose my own text in such a way that, when translated into a gene and then integrated into the cell, the text nevertheless gets “expressed” by the organism, which, in response to this grafted, genetic sequence, begins to manufacture a viable, benign protein – a protein that, according to the original, chemical alphabet, is itself another text. I hope, in effect, to engineer a primitive bacterium so that it becomes not only a durable archive for storing a poem, but also a useable machine for writing a poem."

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