sentimentalising the book

i had an interesting conversation with some friends on facebook this week in response to the flying books of morris lessmore (best animated short at the academy awards). it’s a beautiful animation but it’s popularity does raise some great questions. one of the best responses was on james bradley’s city of tongues blog

‘I suspect what’s actually being celebrated is the idea of the books themselves. Nobody’s suggesting we actually engage with Poe or Dickens or Melville, they’re just suggesting we feel a quick inner glow at the thought of them… Coupled with the fetishisation of the technology of the physical book and the library it’s a strangely pernicious brew. Because if we want books and reading to survive and continue to thrive the single worst thing we can do is turn them into Hallmark card symbols of past certainty. What we need to be doing is emphasising the energy and ambition of contemporary writers, and developing new cultures of reading. And call me cranky, but I find it difficult to see how sentimentalising the past does that’.

my post was written partly in response to having just read some pretty elitist and simplistic comments made by franzen in the guardian jonathan franzen warns ebooks are corroding values

‘Jonathan Franzen has spoken of his fear that ebooks will have a detrimental effect on the world – and his belief that serious readers will always prefer print editions. And about ebooks ‘That kind of radical contingency [the delete button] is not compatible with a system of justice or responsible self-government.’

a very smart friend of mine weighed in with the following ‘the way that I read what he was saying was that without a tome of sanctioned examples about how we should behave towards one another we have ‘radical contingency’ or anarchy. His thesis is based on the assumption that we can’t self-govern responsibly without a book of rules… Paradigm shifts are always unsettling for those who have their identity tightly wound around classical forms..’

from my own point of view, i think i resent this reductive thinking that creates a dichotomous type of argument. print or screen, paper or monitor. that’s lame enough, but to then claim that our moral framework and intelligence depends upon such ‘certainties’ is just lazy thinking and a deliberately provocative oversimplification. it is, to quote james bradley “a pernicious brew.” it also takes me back to my post reflecting on gopnik’s article how the internet gets inside us and his excellent quote

Thoughts are bigger than the things that deliver them.

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