October 2007

Arts & Letters

‘The Book is Dead: Long Live the Book’ by Sherman Young

By Chris Womersley

This is a tidy manifesto which argues that, in the same way news has become separated from newspapers, and radio programs (think podcasting) from the radio, there is no reason why literature cannot be disentangled from the object of the book. Even for those romantic souls for whom books are talismans, Sherman Young contends, the pleasure of reading is in the thoughts and emotions aroused by a work. Reading is not only a process in which the writer and reader meet, but one in which the reader enters into a conversation with everyone who has ever read the same story. Like any modern theorist, Young invents his own unwieldy word for this: internalactivity.

According to Young, the purchase of literary works (as opposed to “anti-books”, like celebrity biographies, self-help manuals and other marketing ventures) has always been a niche activity and one that - in an age of declining profits and of environmental concerns over paper use and polluting methods of book distribution - is unsustainable. The so-called Heavenly Library, with downloadable versions of everything written, would reintroduce to a wider population those writers who are now rarely stocked in bookshops, in the same way that downloadable music has boosted the flagging careers of near-forgotten musicians. Project Gutenberg already has an online catalogue of 20,000 free e-books whose copyright has expired, and a glance at its most downloaded authors would seem to bear this out: Mark Twain and L Frank Baum regularly bookend the top 20 of the nearly 100,000 daily downloads. Literature will live on in a different form, read on a device that is yet to be perfected.

Although his conclusions are hard to refute - it is perhaps a credit to Young, a lecturer in media at Macquarie University, that he makes them seem inevitable - sometimes his technophilia gets the better of him: yes, technically texting on a mobile is writing but, let’s face it, barely; and the assertion that writing is, thanks to the ease of uploading digital content, inseparable from publishing is enough to send a shiver through anyone who has stumbled across one of the internet’s countless semi-literate blogs.

Cover: October 2007

October 2007

From the front page

Bring Assange Home: MPs

The US extradition case against the Australian journalist sets a dangerous precedent

Image of Steve Kilbey

The Church frontman Steve Kilbey

The prolific singer-songwriter reflects on four decades and counting in music

Illustration

Bait and switch

Lumping dingoes in with “wild dogs” means the native animals are being deliberately culled

Cover of ‘The Testaments’

‘The Testaments’ by Margaret Atwood

The Booker Prize–winning sequel to ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ is an exhilarating thriller from the “wiliest writer alive”


In This Issue

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

Billy Hughes & Woodrow Wilson

Illustration by Jeff Fisher.

Caveat emptor

Illustration by Jeff Fisher.

The flatbed scanner of democracy

‘The Door’ by Margaret Atwood


More in Arts & Letters

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Radical ambiguity: Jia Tolentino, Rachel Cusk and Leslie Jamison

The essay collections ‘Trick Mirror’, ‘Coventry’ and ‘Make It Scream, Make It Burn’ offer doubt and paradoxical thinking in the face of algorithmic perfectionism

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A way home: Archie Roach

The writer of ‘Took the Children Away’ delivers a memoir of his Stolen Generations childhood and an album of formative songs

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Late style: Martin Scorsese’s ‘The Irishman’

Reuniting with De Niro, Pacino and Pesci, the acclaimed director has delivered less of a Mob film than a morality play

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No one’s laughing now: Todd Phillips’ ‘Joker’

A gripping psychological study of psychosis offers a surprising change of pace in the superhero genre


More in Noted

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‘Civilization: The Way We Live Now’

The beautiful photographs of often grim subjects in NGV Australia’s exhibition raise questions over the medium’s power to critique

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‘The Testaments’ by Margaret Atwood

The Booker Prize–winning sequel to ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ is an exhilarating thriller from the “wiliest writer alive”

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‘The Man Who Saw Everything’ by Deborah Levy

The British author experiments with a narrative structure that collapses past and present

‘The weekend’ cover

‘The Weekend’ by Charlotte Wood

The Stella Prize–winner returns with a stylish character study of women surprised by age


Read on

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The Church frontman Steve Kilbey

The prolific singer-songwriter reflects on four decades and counting in music

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Interrogating the interrogators: ‘The Report’

This tale of the investigation into CIA torture during the War on Terror places too much faith in government procedure

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What really happened at Yuendumu?

The promised inquiries must answer the biggest questions raised by the police shooting of an Aboriginal man

You could drive a person crazy: Noah Baumbach’s ‘Marriage Story’

Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson are at their career best in this bittersweet tale of divorce


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