The Future of the Book
Geoffrey Nunberg, ed.

Ekphrasis, Virtual Reality,
and the Future of Writing
Jay David Bolter

On the Difficulties of Prediction

"Thus, when we talk about the future of the book, we are talking about subtle interactions between changing technological constraints and changing cultural needs. It is unwise to try to predict technological change more than a few years in advance. Many of the arguments against the widespread use of the computer as a reading technology depend upon assumptions about the physical size and clarity of the computer screen. Yet we do not know what computers will look like in the year 2000: we do not know how small they will be, how portable, how comfortable and convenient to read. It is even more difficult to make predictions about the social or cultural impact of technological change. We cannot know whether readers in the years 2000, 2020, or 2050 may come to prefer computers to printed books. Certainly cultural choices are keeping printed books and other materials in use today. For most purposes, print could be eliminated now, at least in the industrialized world, if readers and writers made a determined effort to do so. Most readers today are not prepared to replace their books with computers, but they might change their minds in the future" (254-255).

On the Inversion of Ekphrasis

"Thus, the renegotiation of the word and image that is taking place in our traditional and new media is leading to a crisis in rhetoric. For both ancient and modern rhetoric have depended upon subordinating images to words. In ancient rhetoric it was the spoken word that controlled the image; in modern rhetoric it has been the written or printed word. Now when neither the written nor the spoken word can exert effective control, the result is an inversion of traditional rhetorical practice. In particular, the effect of turning a newspaper into a multimedia screen can be seen as an inversion of the classical device of ekphrasis . Ekphrasis is the description in prose or poetry of an artistic object or striking visual scene; it is the attempt to capture the visual in words. Today, as the visual and the sensual are emerging out of verbal communication, images are given the task...of explaining words, rather than the reverse" (264).
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