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

Media unites

Legislation is needed urgently to protect the public’s right to know

Illustration by Jeff Fisher

Vanishing voices

The cultural damage of homogenising language

Illustration

At home in the Antarctic

The screenwriters living with the crew of Mawson station

Image of the University of Sydney

Flat-earthers

The Australian’s crusade on free speech in universities


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

Photo of Blackpink at Coachella

Seoul trained: K-pop and Blackpink

Trying to find meaning in the carefully formulated culture of K-pop

Cover image of Underland by Robert Macfarlane

The chthonic realms explored in Robert Macfarlane’s ‘Underland’

Cave systems, mines, urban sewers, mycelial networks, moulins and more

Still image from 'High Life'

A master’s misstep: Claire Denis’ ‘High Life’

The French auteur chooses a sci-fi film to start over-explaining things

Photo of Leonard French underneath his stained glass ceiling at the National Gallery of Victoria.

Leonard French’s Balzacian life

Reg MacDonald’s biography may return this Australian artist to the national imagination


More in Noted

Still image from ‘Assembly’ by Angelica Mesiti

‘Assembly’ by Angelica Mesiti at Venice Biennale

The democratic ideal is explored in the Australian Pavilion’s video installation

Cover image of 'Animalia' by Jean-Baptiste Del Amo

‘Animalia’ by Jean-Baptiste Del Amo

The French author delivers a pastoral that turns on human cruelty

‘The Essential Duchamp’ at the Art Gallery of NSW

A comprehensive exhibition of the 20th century’s most influential artist

‘Room for a Stranger’ by Melanie Cheng

The medico-writer delivers a novel driven less by storyline than accumulated observation


Read on

Image of the University of Sydney

Flat-earthers

The Australian’s crusade on free speech in universities

Image of Quarterly Essay 74, ‘The Prosperity Gospel’, by Erik Jensen

Everymen don’t exist

On the campaign trail with Scott Morrison and Bill Shorten – a Quarterly Essay extract

Image from ‘Fleabag’

Falling for ‘Fleabag’

On the problematic hotness of Andrew Scott’s Hot Priest

Image of Costume at Dark Mofo

Dark Mofo 2019: Costume

The Tasmanian electro-orchestral pop artist makes a beguiling debut in Hobart


×
×