Dead Trees

Gabrielle has also picked up, like others, on the ‘death of the book’ versus literature conversation in the unsymposium 0.3. But note she collects books. This is the language of the collector, and collectors collect what they value. Old things, blue things, new things, round things. Peugeots, classic bicycles, football jumpers, beer coasters. You name it, people collect it. The mistake we make in this conversation is to confuse our passion for the thing itself. If I am passionate about reading and the ‘literary’ it does not follow that I am passionate about ‘books’. I can, for instance, certainly imagine book collectors who don’t necessarily read, use, what they collect. And I can imagine passionate readers who don’t feel obliged to hang on to their books. Nadine enjoyed the symposium, recognises that the essence of the literary is not paper (it is language), but also has an excellent outline of what we said about hypertext and cinema. To repeat, imagine a film where instead of Shot A always followed by Shot B it is sometimes followed by Shot C, or F, or H. This is hypertext, except hypertext does it usually only with words. Same idea, same principle. Personally I find the idea intriguing and a way of making potentially amazing things. That not so much has been made is, I think, because of how stuck we are, but we’re slowly getting unstuck.

Kimberely believes books will stay, and they will, but as scholars notice how in this post book already means literature. Books though don’t mean literature, and literature happens outside of books (drama, spoken poetry, electronic literature, literary games), and the novel is not all of literature. So, in many ways, when people argue that books are forever they actually mean the novel. And the problem with that is that a novel seems to work perfectly well not on paper. James makes a similar point. What is interesting is how we know that a novel is not about the paper, it is about what happens on it. That is why they can be translated into films, plays, retold verbally to someone else (“oh, that novel’s about….”) Yet in the late age of print with an anxiety of relevance (no one needed to defend the book in this way 50 years ago, it is similar to the way, say, film makers insisted on the special aesthetic qualities of film before they went and bought their first red camera and realised they were aestheticising the wrong thing), yet now we are going to think that the essence of why that book is valuable is not what is on the pages, but the phenomenal experience of the thing. That is rubbish. Push the argument. That book over there is now my most special book because its pages feel and smell the nicest? Novels matter because of the words, not the paper.