Jacqueline Wernimont (Arizona State University) has published the slides and text of a recent talk she gave at the Yale Book History Seminar,”Doing not Being a Book.” Wernimont’s post focuses on “the death of the book” by looking at its history and academic current uses, including “affordances of digital ‘dynamic knowledge systems’ that (like books) are ‘organized and structured to allow various routes of access.'” She critiques arguments about “the death of the book” by pointing out that the book– “a stubborn genre in media technology”– flourishes in many contexts, and that, while forms and methods may change, the concept of “the book” is malleable. Building on Johanna Drucker’s definition of “the program of the codex,” Wernimont points out that:
the “program” of the text, to use Drucker’s term, can be repeatedly altered thereby producing new readings, new performances… I don’t think anything like the death of the book can be pronounced because I don’t think there is a thing called “the book” that was born and could die.”
The post goes on to describe some of those new readings and new performances, giving examples of digital forms of text and collaborative authoring aided by the affordances of the digital. Wernimont closes with the responsibility that educational and cultural institutions have to the public:
I think it is precisely the job of higher education and cultural institutions to help people make sense of socio-cultural-technical changes. Rather than lament or panic, I think we do well do offer our attempts to historicize, contextualize, and render the differential impacts of socio-technical change legible. Corporations are moving rapidly to encourage a consumer who uses rather than creates and I think we have a social imperative to intervene. I also think – and I’m drawing on Johnson’s work again here – that we have a social justice imperative to push against the “strategic amnesia of digital culture” and the claims to totalizing knowledge through computational prosthetics… Part of our important intervention should be helping people to understand how media like the book and related digital knowledge systems operate and how they formalize and enable/disable memory and creative practices.