Sunday Book-Thought 127

My interest in these matters is not so much in the final editorial decisions which one would have to make about these different readings, nor even in the reasons for such eventual choices. Rather, I want to draw attention to the structure of the situation which such a procedure reveals. Here certain relations are prevailing between author and copyist which are not purely mechanical. Furthermore, both author and copyist understand and operate within the accepted terms of the relationship: Byron and Mary Shelley continued to work in this way from 1816 until he left Italy for Greece in 1823. Indeed, their relationship is nothing less than a paradigm which operates through all periods of Byron’s literary career, and with all persons in his literary world who had a hand in publishing his poetry.
Furthermore, all the historical evidence suggests that this is the structure which normally prevails between authors and the literary institutions within which they operate. From the (mostly) anonymous scribes of the Middle Ages to the famous cases of the twentieth century – Maxwell Perkins, for example, or The Autobiography of Malcolm X – authors and their literary agents (or employers) have collaborated to varying degrees in the transmission of literary works. Sometimes these relationships operate smoothly, sometimes the author will struggle against every sort of intervention, and between these two extremes falls every sort of variation. Nevertheless, as soon as a person begins writing for publication, he or she becomes an author, and this means – by (historical definition) – to have entered the world of all those who belong to the literary institution. Blake’s decision to seek complete freedom from that institution, though futile, is nonetheless an important limiting case, for it sharply underscores the determining authority of the institution.
Jerome J. McGann, A Critique of Modern Textual Criticism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983), pp. 52-52.

Sunday Book-Thought 77

Discussions of the future of the book involve both kinds of misapprehensions. For the thematization of material change, we have the picture of electronic media driving the printed book and the institutions of print culture to the margins of discourse. (To paraphrase the closing line of the mad scientist in the movie Back to the Future, “Books? Where we’re going we don’t need books.”) For the present it’s enough to observe that there is nothing in the economics of publishing as a whole or the body of practice surrounding the use of the printed book that militates for its disappearance, even over the long term. And while it is certain that many forms and genres will migrate in part or in whole to an electronic mode of existence over the coming years, there are numerous other printed genres that stand to benefit from the new technologies, whether in the form of electronic text preparation, demand printing, Web advertising, or, what may be most important, the computerized inventory systems that have made possible new types of retail distribution that have vastly extended general public access to texts over the past five years in ways that are arguably more significant than the effects of electronic media. There will be a digital revolution, but the printed book will be an important participant in it.
Geoffrey Nunberg, ‘Farewell to the Information Age’, in The Future of the Book, ed by Geoffrey Nunberg (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), pp. 103-138 (p. 104).