Sunday Book-Thought 104

What is a book? Certainly it is not, or not only, a bound stack of stained wood pulp, or a papyrus scroll, or a sequence of ones and zeros on a microchip. It is nothing near so definite. I have called it at various times an action, an operation, an interference pattern, a parley, a playground, a parenthetical clause, a syncope, a séance, a Schrodinger’s cat, or a Trojan horse. It might also be helpful to keep in mind the obsolete noun ‘handfast’, meaning variously a firm grasp, a handle, the handshake that seals an agreement, or a contract or covenant, especially a marriage betrothal.
But for now let us say simply that a book is a situation.
Shelley Jackson, ‘I Hold It Toward You: A Show of Hands’, in The Bloomsbury Handbook of Electronic Literature, ed by Joseph Tabbi (London: Bloomsbury, 2018), pp. 13-38 (p. 14).

Sunday Book-Thought 100

The bookish text is my home, and the community of bookish readers are those included in my ‘we.’
This home is now as outmoded as the house into which I was born, when a few light bulbs began to replace the candle. A bulldozer lurks in every computer with a promise to open new highways to data, replacements, inversions, and instant print. A new kind of text shapes the mind-set of my students, a printout which has no anchor, which can make no claim to be either a metaphor, or an original from the author’s hand. Like the signals from a phantom schooner, its digital strings form arbitrary font-shapes on the screen, ghosts which appear and then vanish. Ever fewer people come to the book as a harbor of meaning. No doubt, for some it still leads to wonder and joy, puzzlement and bitter regret, but for more – I fear – its legitimacy consists in being little more than a metaphor for pointing toward information.
Ivan Illich, In the Vineyard of the Text: A Commentary to Hugh’s Didascalicon (Chiacago: The University of Chicago Press, 1993), p. 118.