Encountering literature by walking through it

Over on the excellent BLDGBLOG, a new favorite and a recent addition to the blogroll, Geoff Manaugh has been speculating about augmented reality applications for buildings that never were, inspired by a new iPhone application for browsing visionary Manhattan architecture. He also suggests something that sounds a lot like what I've been trying to do with mapping applications and literature:

…back in 2008, in a post that now seems remarkably dated, I suggested that Google Maps should come with a "sci-fi layer"
– that is, a layer that would document where in your city certain
events had taken place or certain structures had stood in a work of
fiction. For instance, the building that Robert Neville's dog runs into
in I Am Legend or the trainyard from Escape From New York, the apartments from Make Room! Make Room!, the high-rise penthouse from The Day After Tomorrow

are Manhattan-centric examples, of course, and drawn only from science
fiction, but this could easily be expanded to include landscapes and
structures elsewhere, from the deserts of the Empty Quarter to central
Paris, and it could include other genres, from the poems of John
Ashbery to Howl to The Great Gatsby.

You could even have a "mythology layer" – roaming around Scandinavia, tracking Thor or digging for the roots of Yggdrasil
– or a "theology layer": you go to Israel and your iPhone
short-circuits from the laminations of charged geography around it.

Read the whole thing, as they say. I still like the idea of map visualization as a way of analyzing the spatial dimensions in a poem or a work of fiction or an author's complete works, but the same principle applied to the iPhone (or whatever device we're using in 10 or 20 years' time) offers all kinds of appealing possibilities for encountering literature for the first time. Walk down a street in any given city and your mobile device tells you how the space you're moving through appeared in a novel or story or poem you've never read. Move into a densely "storied" area (Manhattan comes to mind again) and feel the layers and layers of narrative all around you.

And I would love to see an augmented reality application for Ashbery's poems. Are you listening, iPhone app designers?

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