Sunday Book-Thought 144

Different eras, these changes suggest, don’t just produce different kinds of books. Each also generates new ways of treating books – more specifically, new assumptions about what aspects of these physical objects deserve readers’ attention. When my students notice how different an eighteenth-century sermon collection looks from a twentieth-century airport paperback, the difference between a laminated chemistry textbook and the electronic version on their laptop begins to look less unprecedented. In the other direction, though, they begin to see that electronic technologies are in fact creating something radically new. Digital tools may not be upending our reading practices any more drastically than changing forms of print did. What they are revolutionizing is our ideas about reading. In the process, they’re remaking the printed past.
Leah Price, What We Talk About When We Talk About Books: The History and Future of Reading (New York: Basic Books, 2019), p. 33.


Sunday Book-Thought 138

‘Authorship’ in particular is in urgent need of theorizing. The debate here is marked by a profound incomprehension and hence hostility, which is evident in terms such as plagiarism and cutting and pasting. The accusation of plagiarism is itself now becoming an anachronistic term, harking back to a different social, semiotic and legal environment. It arises as a response to social conditions – that is, as a particular semiotic response to notions of ‘freedom of choice’. That is transferred to practices of text-making where formerly settled – quasi-moral, legal and semiotic – notions about authorship, text and property are now no longer treated as relevant; or are, more often than not, no longer recognized by those who engage in text-making now. In that context, the accusation of (‘merely’ or ‘simply’) cutting and pasting is a response that betrays a lack of theoretical work and hence incomprehension about new principles of text-making composition. It rests on a misconceived transfer of old conceptions of authorship to new conditions. Let me hasten to say – lest I be misunderstood – that I am not in favour of intellectual theft nor of deceit, laziness or exploitation. Yet mere moral outrage alone will not produce one iota of understanding.
– Gunther Kress, Multimodality: A Social Semiotic Approach to Contemporary Communication (London: Routledge, 2010), p. 21.