''Being a curmudgeon is a dirty job, but somebody has to do it,'' Birkerts announces, and proceeds to beautifully lament the quickening loss of the art of reading in our era of hypertextuality. By mixing memoir, historical narrative and cultural critique, Birkerts argues by example against cyberspace's flattening of history, where private memory is being supplanted by public software, vertical depth is overwhelmed by horizontal ''links,'' and hard-won, historical wisdom is losing ground to the evanescent present of the blinking cursor. While he concedes to certain advantages of a global information system, or the compressing of the whole of Greek Literature onto CD-ROM discs, Birkerts's brilliant essays remind us that the truly essential, nourishing ''networking'' exists among a printed text, an active reader, and the deep, ineffable ''other'' that all great books approach.
An Eighth Day View:
A reissue of the book that first examined the future of reading and literature in the electronic age, now with a new introduction and Afterword
In our zeal to embrace the wonders of the electronic age, are we sacrificing our literary culture? Renowned critic Sven Birkerts believes the answer is an alarming yes. In "The Gutenberg Elegies," he explores the impact of technology on the experience of reading. Drawing on his own passionate, lifelong love of books, Birkerts examines how literature intimately shapes and nourishes the inner life. What does it mean to "hear" a book on audiotape or decipher its words in electronic form on a laptop screen? Can the world created by Henry James exist in an era defined by the work of Bill Gates? Are books as we know them--volumes printed in ink on paper, with pages to be turned as the reading of each page is completed--dead?
At once a celebration of the complex pleasures of reading and a bold challenge to the information technologies of today and tomorrow, "The Gutenberg Elegies" is an essential volume for anyone who cares about the past and the future of books.