At great risk of appearing unneccesarily sycophantic, I need to say that Mark Pesce‘s post, Whatever Happened to the Book, is clever, unusually clever, even for Mark. Everything that currently intellectually interests (read obsesses me) about literature and our hyperconnected age is explored.
Please read it closely and tell your friends, especially if they are teachers still learning.
Here’s a taste, I particularly enjoyed the third section:So what of Aristotle? What does this mean for the narrative? It is easy to conceive of a world where non-fiction texts simply dissolve into the universal sea of texts. But what about stories? From time out of mind we have listened to stories told by the campfire. The Iliad, The Mahabharata, and Beowolf held listeners spellbound as the storyteller wove the tale. For hours at a time we maintained our attention and focus as the stories that told us who we are and our place in the world traveled down the generations. Will we lose all of this? Can narratives stand up against the centrifugal forces of hypertext? Authors and publishers both seem assured that whatever happens to non-fiction texts, the literary text will remain pure and untouched, even as it becomes a wholly electronic form. The lure of the literary text is that it takes you on a singular journey, from beginning to end, within the universe of the author’s mind. There are no distractions, no interruptions, unless the author has expressly put them there in order to add tension to the plot. A well-written literary text – and even a poorly-written but well-plotted ‘page-turner’ – has the capacity to hold the reader tight within the momentum of linearity. Something is a ‘page-turner’ precisely because its forward momentum effectively blocks the centrifugal force. We occasionally stay up all night reading a book that we ‘couldn’t put down’, precisely because of this momentum. It is easy to imagine that every literary text which doesn’t meet this higher standard of seduction will simply fail as an electronic book, unable to counter the overwhelming lure of the medium.
Below are a few unformulated reflections. I intend to write a ‘proper’ reflective piece about ‘the book’ and possible futures.
Perhaps, because this topic is obsessing me at the moment – colleagues and friends would have noted my reactionary but concerted efforts recently to read more books/novels/fiction – I feel, after reading this twice, I want to know what ‘will’ happen to the concept of the book even more.
Will the ‘literary text…remain pure and untouched, even as it becomes a wholly electronic form’ – one part of me desperately hopes this is the case, like painting or sculpture.
We all love hypertext and many of our ereaders take little or no advantage of the medium. It is true what Mark says about the ‘economic purposes of publishers’ meaning that they will want to publish ‘dead texts’ in the ‘light’ of their ereader platforms. However, one cannot agree with ‘it does not make the electronic book an intrinsically alluring object’. The Kindle, in spite of its limitations is ‘alluring’ to many readers for a host of reasons that Mark dismisses. Primarily the ubiquity, one can download quickly a new release and carry many texts around. I know, from chats with luddite colleagues that, bound in leather, it appeals to traditional lovers of literature but techie types respond well too. There are issues and our cultural publishing industries need to adapt, or even better, innovate quickly.
Ironically, or maybe sadly, I’d like Mark to answer in a 140 characters, ‘what happened’. There is something not quite right about the framing of the piece, as all this has not quite, ‘happened’, not quite, it is all in the process of becoming.
More later…after I have chatted, perhaps with you, readers of this blog.