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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