[-empyre-] Books And pixels

Zac Zimmer zac.zimmer at gmail.com
Thu Jun 10 01:50:31 EST 2010

Hello to all,

I thoroughly agree with Joost that the iphone is not the communication
technology that Hegel's Logic demands. Has anyone read a previously printed
text that seemed to read *better* on an electronic device? (i.e. an untimely
book that seems only now to have founds its proper medium?)

That said, I think we should be careful about conflating "book" and
"narrative." Joost says, "I tend to define books as that creative product
that, in principle, has a story line that must be followed from a starting
point to a conclusion (though as in hypertext and games, we might have more
That definition would exclude some of the more interesting experimental
writing produced in recent generations; John Haltiwanger mentions
serialization and open-ended collaboration, but we could also add books that
deliberately conceal/mask/refute starting points and conclusions (Finnegans
Wake is an early example that comes to mind), along with other exercises in
fiction that embrace repetition/constraint over beginning/conclusion (Oulipo
texts, for instance). Not to mention the question of books of poetry...
Also, in relation to the formal element of unchangability that we expect
from a book, Chartier reminds us that a book changes by the fact that it
does NOT change when the world changes, or when the world's mode of reading
changes. It seems that automatically-updating electronic books would
unsettle this concept and force us to reevaluate our understanding of books
as archival documents.


zac z

2010/6/9 John Haltiwanger <john.haltiwanger at gmail.com>

> On Tue, Jun 8, 2010 at 5:14 PM, Joost Kircz <j.g.kircz at hva.nl> wrote:
> > Dear Colleagues,
> > In fact the old discussion on hypertext is back on the agenda. Now the
> > technology is creeping into the right direction (though we still don’t
> have
> > bidirectional links in XML), see my (and my co-author Anita de Waard) at:
> > http://elpub.scix.net/cgi-bin/works/Show?234_elpub2008
> From the paper:
> "Our work rests on two main theoretical principles: the concept of
> modular documents, consisting of content elements that can exist and
> be published independently and  are  linked by  meaningful  relations,
>  and  the  use  of  semantic  data  standards  allowing  access  to
> heterogeneous data."
> This sounds like research that would benefit the humanities
> significantly. Has there been much cross-pollination with your
> research into fields outside of the physics/computer science/cell
> biology that you mention in the end of the abstract?
> > In that sense, my interest is the question”What communication demands
> what
> > technology”and explicitly not gee look Msword 2020 will be able to show
> the
> > coding just as Wordperfect does.
> I was wondering if you could follow this line of thought a bit,
> perhaps with more details of what fits where, and how to decide?
> Have we already developed the ideal grammars of typography for dealing
> with long-form prose (essays, books) through our experience with
> printing ink on paper? Or does the screen offer space for new grammars
> that we are still to encounter?
> > 3)- A nagging question “What is a book”
> > Because we call everything between two covers a book and the whole trade
> > organised along those lines, this doesn’t mean that it is a book in an
> > electronic environment. A telephone directory is not any more a book, an
> > encyclopaedia is not any more a book. But a novel or a text book is. I’m
> > working on a discussion paper on this subject. I tend to define books as
> > that creative product that, in principle, has a story line that must be
> > followed from a starting point to a conclusion (though as in hypertext
> and
> > games, we might have more outcomes).
> Is there a time/space component to this? For example, serialization:
> Is it a book if it hasn't finished yet? What about a (hypothetical,
> afaik) collaborative text in which the story is intentionally
> changing, piece by piece? In other words, does book imply a certain
> stasis, perhaps a physical embodiment? The "two covers" could be the
> top and bottom plastic of a game DVD, a first and last blog post, or
> the beginning and end of a PDF file's structure. Both these imply
> finished products, or at least a static existence. Could "unchanging"
> be a formal attribute of what we expect in a book? (This is with the
> understanding that books change, but with the attitude that a new
> edition is a new incarnation--the elements of the old edition do not
> change automatically to match the new one (yet, at least; I would
> argue that this feature is not necessarily a good thing)).
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> http://www.subtle.net/empyre
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