Sunday Book-Thought 118

The figure of the text ‘processed’ on a computer is like a phantom to the extent that it is less bodily, more ‘spiritual’, more ethereal. There is something like a disincarnation of the text in this. But its spectral silhouette remains, and what’s more, for more intellectuals and writers, the program, the ‘software’ of machines, still conforms to the spectral model of the book. Everything that appears on the screen is arranged with a view to books: writing, lines, numbered pages, coded indications of forms (italics, bold, etc.), the differences of the traditional shapes and characters. There are some tele-writing machines that don’t do this, but ‘ours’ still respect the figure of the book – they serve is and mimic it, they are wedded to it in a way that is quasispiritual, ‘pneumatic’, close to breathing: as if you had only to say the word and it would be printed.
Jacques DerridaPaper Machine, trans. by Rachel Bowlby (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005), p. 30.

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.