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 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.