Presentation Summary: This is Not the End of the Book;

For my presentation, I will approach the assignment in the ‘traditional’ format of an 8 minute presentation discussing Umberto Eco and Jean-Claude Carriére’s This Is not the End of the Book.

Eco and Carriére’s text is a massive undertaking of the many facets of how knowledge is stored, shared and preserved.  The authors, (or more appropriately, conversationalists), suggest that as a tool to preserve knowledge, the printed book cannot be beaten; Eco proclaims “the book [is] like the invention of the wheel. Today’s wheels are the same wheels as prehistoric times.” (Eco & Carriére, 7-8).

Suggesting that even before the printed press the printed word existed, Eco and Carriére become ‘weathermen’ for the future of literature. They propose that digital media, reading and the Internet have become dangerous tools to literature and academia itself. An interesting idea that caught my eye was twofold; can literature be stored on the Internet, and how does the Internet affect our interpretations of text?

The storage of information is one of the key themes of the text, and it’s important in not only books but also film. In the documentary “Side by Side” director Christopher Kenneally outlines the uses of both film and digital film in cinema and consequently cinematography. Film stored on celluloid, laserdisc, DVD, VHS etc., become useless if there’s nothing to play the films or the films will sometimes deteriorate on their format. This can result in them being lost forever. This is the same with literature, when the authors talk about “a CD-ROM of […] Patrologia Latina on the market for 50,000 dollars,” which later became worthless with the advent of information sharing on the Internet, (15).  The rare Orson Welles performance Eco and Carriére discuss would surely become less worthwhile if it’s contents became available on say, Netflix. This gives rise to the biggest problem with the digitization of literature on the Internet – one of filtering knowledge.

If information is stored on the Internet, who is to say it won’t get lost in an endless amount of search results, killed off by the more accessible, (and often dead wrong Wikipedia). “What the internet provides is gross information, with almost no sense of order or hierarchy, and with the sources unchecked,” Jean-Claude Carriére says, with Eco adding it “risks creating six billion separate encyclopedias, which would prevent any common understanding whatsoever.” (81-82). The aforementioned Welles film, extremely important in the annals of cinema will lose its respect and importance when it pops up beside the latest season of Breaking Bad on an internet playlist.

The central idea of Eco and Carriére’s conversation is that books gather ideas, they’re like the gathering of “small groups of people who know each other and share the same tastes at the same time” like the Surrealists and the Beat Poets, (93-94). We need, books, literature, and people with different viewpoints than our own to collectivize knowledge and present it to us – we need others to swim through a sea of rhetoric to find absolute truth, and then we can find that truth ourselves. A printed book, a teacher with a doctorate, or an experienced elderly person has earned our intellectual trust. Digital tools have not yet done so. Eco and Carriére don’t shy away from the fact that digital tools are wholly useful, but they stress the absolute importance of the printed word.

 

What will be the canonical literature of the future?

 

How will readers determine what’s important in an era of mass information?

 

Are digital reading tools absolutely necessary for text analysis? Can English academia survive in a future without them?

 

Works Cited

 

Side by Side. Dir. Christopher Kenneally. Perf. Martin Scorsese, James Cameron, David Fincher, David Lynch, Keanu Reeves. Company Films, 2012. DVD.

 

Carrière, Jean-Claude, Umberto Eco, and Jean-Philippe De. Tonnac. This Is Not the End of the Book: A Conversation. London: Harvill Secker, 2011. Print.

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One Response to Presentation Summary: This is Not the End of the Book;

  1. Allison Jensen says:

    Hi Graham,

    You touched on a lot of points I was pondering as well while reading the book. I particularly like when you brought up how digital tools have not yet earned our intellectual trust. By “our trust”, I assume you mean the trust of academics or of intellectuals because many people take the Internet’s word at face value as fact without attempting to qualify or verify their findings.

    This distrust you bring up reminded me of when IBM made a machine called Watson that competed on Jeopardy. Here’s the link for how Watson came to be:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_1c7s7-3fXI

    It is interesting to note how the machine did not initially understand what was being asked of it. Even after many refining processes, some of the answers Watson would come up with would be entirely incorrect. The machine was able to store information effectively but information recollection in the proper context was a difficult barrier to overcome and is perhaps not entirely surmountable.

    To answer some of your questions:

    1.) What will be the canonical literature of the future?

    I never thought to ask that question and I laughed out loud when I read it because I really have no idea. All of the possibilities I can posit are a little bit scary to me. For example, I hope we don’t live in a world where 50 Shades of Grey and LOLCats become canonical based off of popularity and the rise of digitization. I’m interested in hearing other people’s thoughts on this.

    2.) How will readers determine what’s important in an era of mass information?

    That seems to the be most pressing question of today. We have all this information coming at us and virtually no filtration process required for it. Like Michael Scott from The Office says: “Wikipedia is the best thing ever. Anyone in the world can write anything they want, so you know you are getting the best possible information.” Provided we continue to require the younger generations to use their own thinking powers to create understanding and not completely lose the interpretation ability, it could be fine. My fear is that the youth will no longer be able to engage in higher thinking discourses because they have never been required to due to the tools available to them. I also fear the day when hashtag versions of classic literary works are published to facilitate ease of digital access. I can only imagine authors #rollingintheirgraves.

    3.) Are digital reading tools absolutely necessary for text analysis? Can English academia survive in a future without them?

    I don’t know that these tools are absolutely necessary but I do think they can be effectively integrated into the system of literary studies and will yield beneficial results. I think that as a department, English does need to make a digital shift to accommodate the changing world around us. We cannot just stick our heads in the sand and pretend we are immune to the changes when we are not. I know many English profs who like to consider themselves “old school” prohibit the use of technological devices in the classroom. While I understand what they are trying to do by instigating this rule, avoiding distracted students and trying to keep students’ attentions, but it is really unnecessary. If I as a student do not want to pay attention, it doesn’t matter if I have a computer or not; I will find a way to not pay attention. Devices can be very beneficial for cross referencing, looking up definitions and origins, faster note typing, better organization, and many other things. We as a department can’t just choose to exempt ourselves from the technological processes of the times in which we live. That only further alienates our work from our peers which as we all know first hand is not necessarily readily accepted as credible in the first place.

    So to conclude, I think these questions are relevant for us to be asking ourselves as academics and as a wider academic community. Indeed what shall we do at these crossroads? Do we take the road less traveled and find ourselves all alone, making no progression in our fields or do we go with the flow and hope to integrate knowledge while developing and strengthening the field?

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