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?
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.