Sunday Book-Thought 85

As Georges Poulet reminds us, a book is not just an object among others: it gains its essential life only when read. No text is ‘a space that resists all intrusion’ and the only closed text is one that has never been opened. Once read, a book has a life beyond its physical or authorial confines, and that life is always interactive, even when the reader lives with the memory of the book, constructs him or herself as the dialogic counterpart of the author. At this stage, hypertext vividly illustrates the complex network of processes by which an active reader reads a work: it provides an external correlative for patterns of thought established in a culture of print.  Proponents and visionaries of the new discourse would do well to emphasise these continuities: the genius of hypertext resides in its unprecedented facility for making exterior mechanisms of consciousness which have been developed over the millennia since the invention of writing. Here one would want to add to the interiorisation thesis a related thesis of exteriorisation.
– Seán Burke, The Death and Return of the Author: Criticism and Subjectivity in Barthes, Foucault and Derrida, 2nd edn (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1998), p. 198

Sunday Book-Thought 73

The revolution of the electronic text will also be a revolution in reading. To read on a screen is not to read in a codex. The electronic representation of texts completely changes the text’s status; for the materiality of the book, it substitutes the immateriality of texts without a unique location; against the relations of contiguity established in the print objects, it opposes the free composition of infinitely manipulable fragments; in place of the immediate apprehension of the whole work, made visible by the object that embodies it, it introduces a lengthy navigation in textual archipelagos that have neither shores nor borders. Such changes inevitably, imperatively require new ways of reading, new relationships to the written word, new intellectual techniques. While earlier revolutions in reading took place without changing the fundamental structure of the book, such will not be the case in our own world. The revolution that has begun is, above all, a revolution in the media and forms that transmit the written word. In this sense, the present revolution has only one precedent in the West: the substitution of the codex for the volumen – of the book composed of quires for the book in the form of a roll – during the first centuries of the Christian era.
Roger Chartier, Forms and Meanings: Texts, Performances, and Audiences from Codex to Computer (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995), p. 18.