The Death of the Book, The Book of Death

Quick thought…

April 14, 2009
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Isn’t it ironic that the books most interesting to “digital media theorists”, or, the books that show the stamp of digitality most clearly are the most self-reflexive and willing to expand the limitations of their material constraints. In trying to carve out a solid place for the pulpy book to live, we explore the “gimmicks” and the digital modern, that if read on an e-reader, or on a screen wouldn’t work nearly as well. –> How can we compare the hypertext version of House of Leaves’ fidelity to its print version?

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The Late Age of Late Ages…

April 12, 2009
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Anyone up on their Marxist/Critical theory will be somewhat familiar with the optimistic phrase “the late age of Capitalism” from (I think) Fred Jameson’s pathbreaking Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Ted Striphas, prof at Indiana, follows this trend in calling his brand spanking new (just releasing at the beginning of April) new book The Late Age of Print. Though housed in the communications department at IU, Striphas’ project weaves together many of the things that excite me about this project and my scholarship more generally: 1) The digital shift in culture; 2) book/print culture/history; and 3) cultural studies. And wow, does Striphas wear his Birmingham school on his sleeve. I thought the CMU cultural studies department had a crush on Raymond Wiliams, but Striphas takes the cake. E-Books are “emergent” for sure, but where’s the strucutre of feeling? Having read 3 of the 5 large chapters of Striphas book, I would classify his style as a good assemblage of R. Williams, Richard Ohmann (Striphas constructs a whole history of the bookshelf as a motor for middle-class identification with books as a consumer good) and Janice Radaway (She was one of his diss advisers). But under all of this bubbles a vein of post-structuralist/post-hermeneutic thought. Striphas engages Michel de Certeau explicitly and Deleuze (but only in his intro) but his personal blog claims to foster “rhizomatic writing”. What I’d chalk this up to is the move away from High Theory towards more conventional historiography. As much as Striphas wants to “change the world, instead of interpret it”, the book market he documents and historicizes, is becoming less favorable to “speculative writing”. His main thesis is that books are going nowhere, and are, in fact, are as a verdant as ever before. I agree here, but the way he crafts his arguments suggest that the rift between “papercentric” and “digital” history is becoming wider. An interesting example of method versus his final product, nevertheless.

Perhaps the most interesting (economically) and least interesting (historically) chapter about the history of International Standard Book Number (ISBN). The subtitle of this book is “From Consumerism to Control”, and this chapter dovetails with the work of Alex Galloway and Eugene Thacker. Though they are fixated on the digital and Striphas the analog, the ISBN is the place where these two collide. This will be an important lever of my paper: the question aout where books are going is not just about scholars worried about making tenure, this is about the channels people use to access the world’s information, who owns it, and what kind of labor is alienated in order to produce, deliver, and package it.

The Future Book: The Origami Novel

April 11, 2009
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In culling through research material to exploit in my final paper, I returned to Kate Hayles’ Electronic Literature so ideas of “material” novel to read for inspiration. In the fifth and final chapter she reads three novels in particular, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safron-Foer, House of Leaves (No surprise there) and a book I hadn’t heard of, The People of Paper by Salvador Plascencia.

About a week ago I decided that I should pick the book up and see what it was like, even before I read the chunk Hayles devoted to it. Big mistake. Firstly, I found out that no bookstore in Pittsburgh carries it. Bummer. So I, like a lowly prole, went to the library. Two days and 10 hours later, I had read the whole thing. If you don’t like “experimentation” you won’t like PoP. (I’m thinking here of Sal’s dismissal of House of Leaves). Plascencia constructs the novel through a whole bevy of visual narrative devices: columns (horizontal and vertical), disappearing ink, and even physically cutting out the name of the narrator/author’s lost love. Erasure in the topographical sense. Though digitally”Every contact leaves a trace” (Kirschenbaum), the arch-narrative of this novel is about deletion from paper. Hayles covers all these “computational” aspects of the novel quite well and interestingly, to no suprise, but she devotes only four pages or so to this book as compared to ten for Safron-Foer and even more for House of Leaves (which she has written other articles about as well). What’s with the diss, Kate?
My analysis of this novel wants to explore the unexcavated material and allegorical components of this very interesting novel. Many “neo-classicist” readers of all three of these novels will, no doubt, write them off as “gimmicky”. And, to be sure, they are. Especially Safron-Foer, that guy is a hack. But anyway, I think there are plenty of moments in this novel, but narratologically, formally, and materially, that bring up the topic of media convergence/media friction which my paper is about.

This, along with a reading of Rainbows End, the SF novel by Vernor Vinge, will give at least a couple “real” examples of books in the 21st century that internally and externally deal with their own obsolescence. Alongside these two, I also just picked up a French novel, The Great Fire of London by Jacques Roubaud, one of the Possible Literature “club?”, (in)famous for their experimentation. To be honest, I don’t think I’ll have time to read this book…While only 300 pages, this book is networked and interlocked in ways that at least rival the modernist masterpieces. So, I could read it, but I don’t have the time to let it read me…


April 1, 2009
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So I’ve really started to delve into my research for this final assignment. So I have to admit that I’m going rather square/conservative on this one, but I think it makes some kind of crazy sense given the goals of my project.

I keep coming to meta-epiphanies. I’m trying to write about shifts in the materiality and politics of print, and the only way to do this effectively is to do so digitally.

I feel hemmed in to writing a “research paper” because of the pressures of the market and cultural capital that the university (at least the mythic one I’ve devised in my head) was designed to avoid.

I’m inspired by deconstructive and post-structural critical praxis, and I try to enact it by making a reactionary argument within a relatively antiquated form

I don’t know exactly how to avoid this, but I guess that’s what this process blog is about…Redrawing paths, even if there is no outside.

Another meta-dilemma: A book I was counting on for “research” The Late Age of Print by Ted Striphas was delayed from the publisher. Even though I pre-ordered it on Amazon, I won’t be receiving it until after the paper is due…

I’m thinking about trying to approach from different POVs. I wonder how much paper is recycled each year. How many library books shredded/sold off. I don’t want my paper to devolve into 1) statistics, 2) classical book history (that stuff is awfully ponderous), or 3) errata.

More than just the move past “papercentrism” I think this book needs to be about destruction in some sort. The material rendering of pulpy, pasty pages from the spines they were designed to inhabit.

Rendered pixels–>rendered flesh–> post-image/post-word–>?

The end is near…

March 6, 2009
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This is a process blog for a project in my Digital Media Theory class at Pitt. I want to explore the claims about the much maligned “death of the book” as opposed “kill the book” rhetoric of digitzation. I don’t know exactly how I’m going to take this question, but I think it’s imperative to mediate between these fantasic claims in order to intervene before these things really get out of hand.

Some questions I want to ask/answer/think on:

1)How/Why do our post-books still retain so many of the typographical and material contrainsts of the old?

2) How can we fight to keep a literate culture when reading is becoming less and less important in both society and pedagogy?

3) Relatedly, if we can get to a post-book reading culture where reading culture is not textual only in secondary moments, how can/should text become a resistant practice?

4) Code is textual, but activable. How can this be used as an informative metaphor about a new kind of wrting and reading the fossils we call books.

5) (With a nod to Jamie) Why much each new medium dethrone the one before it? What about multi-modal production/consumption? (Here’s where some lit could come in)

These are not coming off as well as I would have liked, but hopefully they can mariante over spring break when I’ll be reading, amongst other things, a geeky sf novel about a post-book society. And its not Fairenheit 451, either. It’s called Rainbow’s End by Vernor Vinge.

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