It’d be fun to imagine what lyrics would map seamlessly onto the vid’s narrative and explain it as it’s currently edited. Perhaps "The Ballad of Lyly, Tim, and Jason"? I like your observation that the lyrics work to imbue the narrative with emotion, which allows us—if we know the show— to re-feel as much as revisit the narrative. Given that, it’s surprising the editing is so faithfully representative of the show’s original narrative instead of following the more associative, nonlinear movements of an emotional response (favorite scenes, most "intense" moments). And perhaps that’s one way to characterize the vid: its visual clarity opens the story up to fans and first-time viewers like Mafalda, rather than barring first-timers in the way a nonlinear editing sequence might, and its song invites all of us into the pleasures of an emotive, felt response, one that, by the time we’re on the beach, includes a warm retrospective sigh.
A wonderful post, Lisa, and a perfect captstone for the week. I want to riff off of your point about the portability of printed books and how new technological platforms render that aspect of them problematic. It’s intriguing to me how, on the one hand, so much of what we think we know about what printed books are is in fact relative — relative, that is, to other technologies that happen upon the scene. On the other hand, I’m also intrigued by how there are persistent problems that dog printed books throughout their history — claims about their portability being one of them. I can’t remember whether it’s in Eisenstein, Darnton, or Febvre & Martin, but one of them talks about how, up until the late-19th century, it was common to ship unbound books to bookstores as a way of reducing their weight and hence to minimize shipping costs. There’s a possible claim to be made here about how Kindle, Nook, and other e-readers are not so much problematizing the physical matter of printed books as much as they’re offering "solutions" to this longstanding issue. But maybe that’s just a chicken-egg question.
I love the questions you pose for so many reasons, Lisa, and I think it’s spot-on to note how, as the venues where a book’s content might be retrieved multiply, so do the ontologies of the book itself. However, what really sticks with me from your post is your image of the book “forever undead.” This idea of the book as a sort of zombie seems particularly apt for our contemporary moment, when so many popular culture products seem fixated on apocalyptic scenarios wherein even remaining life appears to function in the realm of the undead. But then, as the New Zealand book council video shows so exquisitely, sometimes the animation of the inanimate can have beautiful and even evocative results, conjuring up the book object as a spot where imagination and form collide. Of course, the reality of the material book’s fate probably lies somewhere between these two diametrical scenarios, but I nonetheless appreciate the notion of undead books calling out for scholarly attention.
Hi Kathleen — Happily I think the functions of books are so varied and so multiple that there will always be plenty of need for the affordances that printed books offer and the ones that ebooks do. Nor do information and tactility always work as separable altermantives. You’re right that books-as-information seem to be headed on line. Think of Wikipedia. But there are plenty of occasions when digging a bit of information out of a printed book is simply easier and quicker. (Confession: I still use a paper dayplanner for this reason, though judging from the slim pickings at Staples this year, I may be the only one.) Indeed, "digging out" is only one of the important things we do with information. As something of an absent-minded professor, I’m always trying to find ways to take in as well as dig out: I mean, I am always struggling to get information to stick inside my head, and as far as stickiness goes it’s the tactility of paper pages and pencil marks that works best.
How fantastic to come back to the book’s materiality, Lisa — I love that video — but to see that materiality literally animated, its own narrative transformed by other media forms into something beside (or besides) itself. I wonder, though, about the extent to which this video supports the argument I’ve heard a good bit lately — that the printed book as we have long known it will of course survive, but will survive precisely in those niches that privilege materiality, as, for instance, the artist’s book. Will the book-as-vehicle-for-information become increasingly digital, while the book-as-tactile-experience remains in print? What kinds of pressures would such a shift place on publishers, authors, and booksellers?
Electronic communication can surprise you. I was in mid-draft on this post on Wednesday, thinking I’d swoop back in Thursday evening and finish things up, before going live on Friday, and just now discovered that the post in fact went live today — which means you’ve gotten it in an unfinished state. The post was meant to be paragraphed (and I need to find out why the paragraph breaks aren’t appearing), and that ellipsis up there wasn’t in fact rhetorical, but was a thought I’d meant to come back and fill in.
But there’s something interesting about discovering that what I’d thought was a mid-stride draft has suddenly gotten "published," something that indicates the way that authors, broadly speaking, are going to need to change their relationships to the moment of publication once truly flexible read/write devices become available. And Elizabeth, I’m absolutely with you — one of the first things I fell in love with was the bookstore scenes, too, and that connection of physical place and network space is part of what excites me about the Nook (much as I cringe every time I type the name) as opposed to the Kindle: the sense that we might link physical browsing with digital reading is genuinely exciting to me. When we’re able to get our libraries into that mix (and get the device in a snappy red leather cover), I’ll be in.
Great stuff, Kathleen, and I know you’re personally on the cutting edge of helping to re-invent technologies of reading and writing. And indeed I agree with your assessment in the post: it’s startling that so few e-readers provide a robust writing function, save for some obligatory marginal notation features. There’s so much more that could be done with e-reading/writing, and my sense is that developers are held back precisely because they’re trying to re-create the form, function, experience, and atmospherics that people tend to associate with printed codex books. Gary Hall calls this "papercentrism"; we might also refer to it as "codicentrism" (or something like that). Whatever you call it, it seems to me that e-readers aren’t going much of anywhere for as long as they continue to be modeled so definitively on a predecessor technology. And I’m sure this will be the case for as long as we persist in calling them e-books. What’s in a name? Everything.
Thanks so much for your post, Kathleen. I’ve loved this video since the first time I saw it, in large part because of the many features you point out regarding this ebook device. However, what I love even more about the video, and would like to add to the mix of our discussion surrounding it, are the many places its protagonists use their device. It works on beaches, trains, in foreign locales, and in actual brick and mortar bookstores. This latter environment was, in my eyes, the best part of the film. I love how it imagines a future where there will still be bookshops, and people who interact and solicit advice from sales clerks. Further, I like how the world of the video contains both “traditional” books and ebooks, recognizing the fact that one format might be more appropriate for a situation than another. All of these possibilities are often left out of our conversations regarding the potential affordances of e-devices like the one depicted here. But, I think its worth noting that part of what makes this particular device look so enticing are not just its inherent features, but the ways its users employ them and integrate them into preexisting culture. I’m not sure it would be as easy for me to fall in love with this fictional ebook were it not for the compelling ways it is used throughout the film – an obvious reminder of why users always matter so much.
As a publishing exile to academia, I wish some form of this very discussion would be de rigeur among academics, who consume books in massive numbers… Esp. media academics, who often think about these very issues in other contexts.
I love — love, love, love — independent bookstores. The way they fit into the fabric of a town, the bizarre systems of organization they have, the way owners and workers know people, the way they have devoted time and space — their lives, often, quite literally — to literature in a very "on the ground" level. That said? In terms of the "classic" commodity capitalism argument re: David vs. Goliath? B&Ns and Borders provide a huge # of jobs in a way Mom & Pop stores can’t, pop up in all kinds of places that would otherwise NOT have a community space devoted to literature, and — let’s be real for those of us who love to read and buy and are totally broke — are cheaper b/c they can arrange the discounts.
I’m sensitive to Deleuze’s argument specifically b/c of these thing. But on some level? "Cost," like "value," is multivalent. Book buyers, lit fans, whatever we want to call them, give up something with B&N — even moreso with Walmart, Amazon, half.com, etc. However romantic and affective it may be. Yes online distribution aggregates and disseminates info about books and lit in different ways — I’m really interested in how Ted’s book delves into that. B/c finding a weird novel on BN.com? Not nearly the same feeling as plucking it out of a corner of a weird little bookstore. For better AND worse.
I’m afraid I’d still resist this idea. Sure, B&N and Amazon are different pieces of fruit, but, well, fruit is fruit. The fact that one giant corporation sells books and stuff and the other ‘just’ sells books isn’t astounding to me as much as it is the general order of corporations today. They sell, and they do so according to elaborate architectures that are at once intensively capitalized and massively, intricatly constitutive of what today passes for identity: consumer preference and customization. Interestingly, contests between bookstores and department stores in the late 19th and early 20th century offer a related case. "Practices flow[ed] between them" as they competed with subscription sales (a commecrial form that didn’t survive) and yet bookstores and department stores were very different from one another. Difference between corporations doesn’t make them human, does it, it only makes them different? … Call me a cynic, sure.