Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Questions Concerning Technology

What is the point of teaching students how to read books in the epoch of the Internet?

I am currently trying to make a case for a ‘new’ collection of theoretical readings—a book that will teach well and provide undergraduate students with a sense of confident mastery (albeit preliminary) over the slippery subject of Critical Theory. But what is the use of such a sheaf when most readings—or in some cases, summaries of such readings—are available on the screen, at the click of a mouse button, handily archived, and hyper-linked throughout? What can a book do, differently?

One can resort to the materiality of the paper-feel, or to the smell of a book. But textually speaking, what subtleties exist when reading a page? Does a page of Marx or Freud read differently in a book and on the screen of an Amazon Kindle? Will the Webpage soon displace the earlier notion of ‘page’ as piece of paper? Was Alexander Pope’s formulation of the critic an early premonition of the movement from literature to criticism to…the Internet?

How does one discuss this (hyper)textual matrix without sounding apocalyptic, nostalgic, or utopian? What is the work of literary theory in an age of technological reproducibility? Take the contemporary Japanese phenomenon of the ‘cell phone novel’—now is literature dying, or thriving? It is hard to say, but interesting to think about.