Textual Scavenger Hunting and Other Pastimes of the Digital Age Part I :: Shipwrecked! Texts that time forgot (X Marks the Top Ten Treasures Spot, Ahoy!)
What will become of The Book? No no, not that book, but the thing that is Book: the physical, papery, rippy shreddy foldy thing of pulped plant and ink that is read without a computer involved…remember?
As part of a larger effort to be addressed in a series of posts here regarding the possibly questionable, certainly complex future of text ex libris in the age of new media, I begin by proposing the following: that the trajectory towards online and digital textuality and scholarship plays as essential a role (ironically) in saving the book as it does in heralding its extinction. For the mode of producing and publishing texts, as well as disseminating and sharing information about texts is molting – shedding its constricting, stuffy garb to emerge phoenix like from the open source sunrise… which, as it turns out, can be not only a generator but also a resuscitator of textual objects, on paper or not.
Bestsellers come and go, though of course, some (and even some that fared less successfully at the time) endure…you’re familiar I’m sure with what we call “classics”? However, there is an incredibly complex game of cultural canasta that determines exactly which works will (or won’t) make the cut. Politics, economy, interpersonal relationships, cultural trends and turns, legal systems, religion, technology, and a whole cast of other familiar characters are the players at this literary casino. It has far far less to do, unfortunately, with the relevance or staying power of the works themselves.
Like a salmon swimming upstream (hmm, weighted down by a net full of books… bad metaphor) I seek to change the tide for these titles: texts, and their authors that lost the coin toss. That awkward, unwieldy behemoth we know as the internet – even as it brings the word to more screens and less pages every day – also offers exposure to books, in their traditional form… as well as opening up new avenues for freeing their production and publication from former constraints.