Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, a novel of a nearly bookless dystopian future in which “firemen” go around burning any last volumes they can find, lends itself well to highly physical special editions. Last year we featured an asbestos-bound, fireproof version, 200 copies of which were published at the book’s first printing in 1953. The year before we featured an experimental edition perhaps even more faithfully reflective of the story’s premise, one whose all-black pages only reveal the negative space around the text with the application of heat.
“Graphic design studio Super Terrain’s edition of Ray Bradbury’s sci-fi classic Fahrenheit-451 took the internet by storm,” writes Electric Literature, “thanks to a video showing how its all-black pages become readable text when exposed to an open flame.”
Now, “for only $451 — get it? — you can preorder one to keep on a specially-heated shelf in your home!” As noted in that post, you could also expose its text using something other than an open flame (a hair dryer, for example), but that would hardly put you as much in the mind of the novel’s “firemen” with their book-eradicating flamethrowers. Whatever you use to heat up the pages, they revert right back to their carbonized-looking black as soon as they cool down.
In Fahrenheit 451, says Super Terrain’s manifesto for this unusual edition of the novel, Bradbury “questions the central role played by books in culture and exposes the possible drifts of a society ruled by immediacy. This tyranny of happiness prevents any form of contestation that could be nurtured by reflexion, memory or culture in books or works of art.” This black-paged book “could be part of Bradbury’s fiction as a trick to keep and hide away the books from the pyromaniac firemen. By setting the book on fire, the reader plunges into the novel and becomes the hyphen between reality and fiction.” How relevant has all of this remained in our “time of continuous flow of images, selfies, fake news, tweets and other ‘digest-digest-digests'”? Strike a match, flick on your lighter, or power up your hair dryer — all, of course, under adult supervision if necessary — and find out for yourself.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.