Friday, November 07, 2008

The Gutenberg Elegies

This book has been dragging on and although the level; of argument is sustained it does feel like being battered by a pub ranter at times and you feel that there has to be a little bit more grey in his outlook and not so much black and white.

Chapter 11
He takes head on the difference between the printed word and the words that appear on screen.

“Extremists - I meet more and more of them - argue that the printed page has been but a temporary habitation for the word. The book, they say, is no longer the axis of our intellectual culture. There is a kind of aggressiveness in their proselytising. The stationary arrangement of language on a page is outmoded. The word, they say, has broken from the corral, is already galloping in its new element, jumping with the speed of electricity from screen to screen.” Page 152


“Disputants, many of them writers, say to me, “Words are still words – on a page, on a screen – what’s the difference?” There is much shrugging of the shoulders. But this will never do. The changes are profound and the differences are consequential. Nearly weightless though it id, the word printed on a page is a thing. The configuration of impulses on a screen is not – it is a manifestation, an indeterminate entity both particle and wave, an ectoplasmic arrival and departure.” Page 154


Computerised words do exist in some way but it is not the same sense of depth as a printed word.

He talks about an erosion of the “domination of the author”.

But he admits it will take a long time for someone like him who reads in a certain way and uses a typewriter to come round to a different reading experience.

Chapter 12
He laments the loss of the combination of literary and intellectual imagination. He challenges the view that just because more books are now written and sold that we are better off. There has been a dumbing down and embarrassment has undermined the literary elite.

Because of the decline in the interest in literature you face a split between the academic elite and the general mass of people that has widened over the past few decades and is being sped up with the emergence of technology.


While technology is seen as the demon that is driving us all into a social sheep-pen where we share exactly the same experiences. You have to suspect that actually he has stumbled on larger issues here that are being filtered through his fairly limited argument.

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