The Future of the Book
Geoffrey Nunberg, ed.

Material Matters: The Past
and Futurology of the Book
Paul Duguid

On Postmodern Blindness

"Unfortunately, the necessary task of addressing the relation between old and new technologies can be difficult. If, as Benjamin (1969: 257) suggests, the Angel of History goes backward into the future, "face turned towards the past" and wreckage piling at its feet, technology's angel usually advances facing determinedly the other way, trying to sweep objects and objections from its path. There is much to be gained, I believe, from getting the two angels to see eye to eye. Unfortunately, as I shall argue, this has recently become only more difficult. Technology's angel is engaged in a passing flirtation with "critical theory," which harbors much of what Jameson calls postmodernism's "deafness to history." To add deafness to blindness is not what McLuhan expected when he foretold a return to the synergy of the auditory and the visual, though it may explain why the volume of debate and, in particular, of the demonization of the book has, as a result of this flirtation, been raised a notch or two" (65).

On the Need for Specific Analysis

"In all, then, I suggest it's important to resist announcements of the death of the book or the more general insistence that the present has swept away the past or that new technologies have superseded the old. To refuse to accept such claims is not, however, to deny that we are living through important cultural or technological changes. Rather, it's to insist that to assess the significance of these changes and to build the resources to negotiate them, we need specific analysis, not sweeping dismissals. Indeed, as Williams (1973: 21) argues, proclaiming our distance from the past only prevents "the reality of a major transition" from being fully "acknowledged and understood" (72-73).

On the Rhetoric of Hypertext

"Of course, my own argument insists that technology alone cannot drive us into this privatized corner and that it is particularly important to look beyond the rhetoric of determinism, supersession, and liberation to the actual social-material practices that are developing. Here, to some extent, a more sanguine picture emerges. The popularity of hypermedia on the World Wide Web shows that much of the rhetoric of hypertext is quite inaccurate and ineffectual. Text is not being decomposed into Barthean lexias; rather very conventional whole documents, with much of their authority and their material origins putatively ascertainable, are being linked. Divisions between author and reader, producer and consumer are being technologically enforced" (88).

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