Sven Birkerts. “Hypertext of Mouse and Man” in The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age (1994).
Writing on the computer promotes process over product and favors the whole over the execution of the part. […] The expectation is no longer that there should be a single best way to say something; the writer accepts variability and is more inclined to view the work as a version. […] The printed page was an objective, immutable thing; the book was an artifact. With the divestment of the creator’s authority and the attenuation of the stylistic ideal, the emphasis in writing has naturally moved from product to process. The work is not intended to be absolute, nor is it received as such. Writing tends to be seen not so much as an objective realization as an expressive instance. A version. Looking from the larger historical vantage, it almost appears as if we are returning to the verbal orientation that preceded the triumph of print.
The arc of history here is inaccurate. No matter how tempting the narrative of reversion to pre-print modalities in the electronic era, it is false on two fronts: orality was never totally superseded by the the arrival of print nor is electronic communication devoid of aspects of print.
Variants occur in printing. They are not a phenomenon isolated to manuscript culture.
“Book” is indeed but one instance of “text”. Why should this be an occasion for lamentation? Take for instance this ecumenical and optimistic approach to text as described by D.F. McKenzie “Forward” to Bibliography and The Sociology of Texts (1999 reprinting the 1986 printing of the 1985 Panizzi Lectures)
The familiar historical processes by which, over the centuries, texts have changed their form and content have now accelerated to a degree which makes the definition and location of textual authority barely possible in the old style. Professional librarians, under pressure from irresistible technological and social changes, are redefining their discipline in order to describe, house, and access sounds, static and moving images with or without words, and a flow of computer-stored information. By contrast, academic bibliography has only recently begun to find fresh stimulus in those developments and to tap the new experience and interest of students for whom books represent only one form of text.
Birkerts offers in a sense a “print elitism”. He is haunted by the spectre of democratic textualism.
And so for day 1717