Can e-books return us to the essence of what a book is?
Of course this masterpiece of fetishism crafted with loving irony could never be an e-book:
Its specifications read : ‘Peter Koch, Printer, 1994 …. Composed in Goudy Text type and printed on handmade paper watermarked with the press logo. Hand-bound by Daniel Flanagan. Sewn onto alum-tawed goatskin thongs, covered in calfskin vellum, with twisted calfskin and Tibetan bone bead clasps. Limited to 25 copies. 248 pp. 10.5 x 16.5 cm.’
The photograph appears beside a quotation from the hallowed past of books, in an essay by the printer-philosopher titled, ‘What I Think When I Think About What I Make’:
In 1540, Alejo Venegas, a Spanish Jesuit, defined the Book as ‘an ark of deposit’ in which, ‘by means of essential information or things or figures, those things which belong to the information and clarity of understanding (entendimiento) are deposited.’ After defining the book, Venegas introduced the distinction between the ‘Archetype Book’ and the ‘Metagraph Book.’ He called the first ‘exemplar’ or ‘dechado’ and the second, ‘transunto’ or ‘traslado’. The first is the uncreated book read only by the angels; the second is the book read by worldly human beings.
Do try and keep up, Nooks, Kindles, and the rest of you e-readers: the angels are waiting. … But seriously, could e-texts take us back to the essence of what a book is – the communication of thoughts and feelings – free of mercantilist calculation and manipulation, and capitalism’s reduction of publishing, too, to the
progressive commodification of life functions, market mediation in successive needs’ satisfaction …
That final quotation is from an article in yesterday’s Guardian, ‘Capitalism has learned to create host organisms,’ by the Polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman.