Do You Want to Read about Reading about Reading?

11 Nov

Besides Argentines Borges and Manguel, I eschew reading about the role of reading and books in the lives of readers and writers. I do feel funny about this aversion because I am not able to pinpoint what it is that fails to attract my attention. Maybe its the specific gravity of those narratives—way too dense, too personal and distractingly, infinitely regressive.

The confusion about literacy in the brave new world is, however, a study that requires some attention, in large part because there a loud and whiney declinist population fabricating all manner of Chicken Little prophecies. Canadian, McGill University mentor Andrew Piper(Dreaming in Books), enters this fray with an illuminating and lucid exploration of issues relating to the interface of the book and the screen.

Book was There by Andrew Piper

Piper asserts:

Book was There Reading in Electronic Times(U of Chicago Press) “is an essayistic exploration of the future of reading through an understanding of our bibliographic past. As I write in the introduction, books were there first. Only in patiently working through this historical entanglement of books and screens will we be able to understand how new technologies will, or will not, change how we read.

Andrew Piper explains (from Prologue)

This book is not a case for or against books. It is not about old media or new media or even new,new media. Instead, it is an attempt to understand the relationship between books and screens, to identify some of their fundamental differences and to chart out the continuities that might run between them. Much like my own personal history in which computers and books were interwoven into the fabric of my life from the very start, electronic reading has a very deep bibliographic history.In Gertrude Stein’s words, books were there. It is this thereness that is both essential for understanding the medium of the book (that books exist as finite objects in the world) and also for reminding us that we cannot think about the electronic future without contending with its antecedent, the bookish past. Books got there first. Books and screens are now bound up with one another whether we like it or not. Only in patiently working through this entanglement will we be able to understand how new technologies will, or will not change how we read. I can imagine a world without books. I can not imagine one without reading

Andre Codrescu,most well known for his PBS series adapted from his film Road Scholar has am extensive oeuvre of over 40 books and a CD of Storm Songs by The New Orleans Klezmer All-Stars. His latest opus Bibliodeath My Archives (With Life in Footnotes)(Antibookclub)features his singular darkly humorous (characteristically East European)ideation and observations.

Bibliodeath by Andre Codrescu

In his own words, my favorite expatriate Romanian poet living in New Orleans,opines,

In our brave new world, techno-evolution is often decried as the death knell of the written word…Our moment of bibliodeath marks a tectonic shift under the ocean of human consciousness and the written word. As words migrate from the book into other means of transport, we are “privy to passage of the soul from one body into another, a reincarnation that is not a meta­physics.” A suspenseful meditation planted in a bed of alluring stories-cum-footnotes, Codrescu wades into the bibliodeath waters to exam­ine his own evolution as a writer. From the poetic lines of an unlined notebook in 1960s Romania to the founding of Exquisite Corpse in 1983 to his ongoing commentary on NPR’s All Things Considered, his journey is an archive of reinvention. Codrescu’s literal Archives and his unsenti­mental and savage faith in reinvention take in the history of the literate world, the transformation of the printed word, and language itself.

This picaresque adventure of a mind at work spans the fin-de-siècle to the 21st century, as the bibliodeath of one medium meets the birth of the next. The evolution of technology must deal with the indomitable bond between language and the human being. In the story of Codrescu, “leaving the traces of one’s passage is worth the labor of a lifetime.”

Antibookclub slogan

TOP PHOTOGRAPH from Andre Kertez’s On Reading (borrowed without permission but in the hope that the Maestro /Andre Kertesz’s estate will understand)

Currently reading Life After LIfe by Kate Christiansen (Regan Arthur Books)

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