The Future of the Book
Geoffrey Nunberg, ed.

The Book as Symbolic Object
Régis Debray

On the Book as Symbolic Anchor

"And it is perhaps also because the text could take the rigid form of an architectural enclosure, be closed up into an ordered and clearly demarcated rectangle, because it could be held and weighed in the hand, leafed through by thumb and forefinger, be prominently displayed in its place for all to see, become a permanent fixture, be hoarded, incorruptible, spatially delimited that the order of books was able for so long to provide so much emotional security. To serve as a pledge of legitimacy and permanence, a shelter against the flight of time, degeneration, death. Fusing material firmness and symbolic value, the book linked persons together through its virtues as a concrete thing. It was (under this guise) the literate person's antidepressant, his survival insurance. It could stand in for the land no urbanite could love, a foothold for the man at sea, a church for the miscreant" (144).

On Echos of Ancient Forms

"Perhaps in fact, the hypertext will be the ultrademocratic, fatherless and propertyless, borderless and customs-free text, which everyone can manipulate and which can be disseminated everywhere. But we should note in passing that this captivating novelty, like many post-modern innovations, has an air of déjà vu about it, in conformity with the rule of the spiraling recurrence of the most ancient in the form of the most new. Does not the fax bring us back the volumen, as the audiovisual reproduces a certain secondary orality, from before the age of printing? Does not the word-processing of text facilitate the scholastic gloss and Alexandrian erudition? The beautiful medieval codex, with its illuminations and margins open to the reader's annotation, is also in a sense making its comeback, with no one likely to raise objections. The traditional book, made of sheaves of folded papers sewn together and bound, with back and cover, once favored the attribution of works to their individual creators -- a rather late development, I think, in the history of the manuscript, unknown to Antiquity and the High Middle Ages (a text = an author). The microchip is going to put back in circulation on our screens the hybrid, rhapsodic object, blending applications and authors. Will the collection of documents in the twenty-first century resemble the potpourri of the thirteenth?" (146).

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