In this article, Pressman articulates the binary that exists as a result of the fear of the loss of “book culture;” she cites that this inherently human emotion, fear, as prompting the creation of innovative texts that within themselves, in a way, serve as agents of this fear, vehicles for the text to reach outside of themselves and into a new place and age.
Pressman articulates many fascinating points in her article, including the following:
- The fear of losing the culture of books prompts creation of innovative texts that blur the line between the strict separation between traits associated with digital and analog media. This hybridity serves to spur creation and thus perpetuates the “book culture” through this “aesthetic of bookishness.” On the first page of the article, Pressman notes how certain novels have mastered the craft of manipulating materiality of the page by doing things that “draw attention to the book as a multimedia format, one informed by ad connected to digital technologies,” and these books show that they (as a whole media form) have “ have “power” that “has been purposefully employed by literature for centuries and will continue to be far into the digital age” (Pressman 465). Books as agents representative of analog media will persist into oblivion because they have always had, and will continue to have, at the most basic level, something to say. They are inexplicably linked to other technologies and will adapt to survive, or rather, we as a society work with books to help them survive because we, perhaps instinctually if not subconsciously, need them to. This need, this human emotion of desire to prevent the demise of the book prompts writers like the one who crafted The Raw Shark Texts, to employ methods of material presentation of texts, the so-called “aesthetic of bookishness” in hopes of conquering these fears. On page 471 she notes that the manner in which the Ludovician shark is presented on the page, like “concrete poetry” is something that “serves to turn the flat page into an opaque reading surface that reflexively defines both the physical book and the novel as possessing depth. These depths are hidden reserves that shelter shark and remind us that there remain as-yet-unexplored spaces in the book-bound, print novel and the aesthetic of bookishness” (Pressman 471). There is still more to see and more to do with this medium, and the notion of exploration, of the need for human interaction on all levels from the mental and emotional to the physical serves both to create and to maintain this setup.
- In addition to these points, she writes about how the text can serve as a sort of predator at the same time as it acts as a savior for readers and for writers as well. It connects with humans on a physical, mental, and emotional level. This notion of hybridity, of duality of action, is articulated on page 466 when Pressman notes that people in the literary world believe that “ the genre of the novel remains novel only by constantly innovation in relation to its contemporary environment of popular culture and media, so too do these novels expose of the literary book needs the threat of its demise as stimulus for its defense” (Pressman 466). This paradoxical relationship, one that describes how both we as human beings and books as a media form need that fear of losing “book culture” in order to persist, emphasizes again that notion of the recursive relationships that societies entertain with media technologies. We are connected to them on a much deeper level that the material one of paper or screen in hands when reading. Books will continue to remind us of this through their employment of these innovative means of presentation, expanding the definition of the book and all allowing for a greater connection with a new generation of readers in terms of both scope and depth. She states, “[t]he final page of the sequence depicts shark leaping off the page to attack not Eric Sanderson but the reader. Here the information channels connecting protagonist and reader operate through the book as a mediating medium and present an example of the novel’s employment of an aesthetic of bookishness” (Pressman 471). This demonstrates how utilizing the materiality of the page, employing the strengths of the art form in this way, allows the page to move beyond itself and become something that is capable of a very real, visceral connection. The aesthetic of bookishness also becomes a sort of antihero here. Something that I feel is by far the most fascinating element of this article is how she links human emotion to the fear of supersession, of being outmoded, of being replaced and even of the complete loss of oneself to some sort of “predator,” be it society at large, technology, or the Ludovician shark. Text, as Pressman notes, has the ability to capture and combat these fears of the death of the page. They combat this by allowing for creation to assert the power and relevance of the page, of the word itself even. Still, they perpetuate it, making the text a predator. Print is what saves Eric Sanderson, in terms of his mental integrity at least in a small part. On page 472 Pressman notes that “Paper is here shown to preserve and shelter, to stave off the shark’s destruction and archive information in physical form against the threat of the disembodied discourse network. It saves him from falling into oblivion; text is what comprises his very salvation at the same time as it seeks to tear apart the fabric of his already fracturing sanity. This shows how the text continues to evolve. It is always innovation, forever alive and unafraid, just like the antihero, to give in to its dark side.
- In the end however, she says that what we fear is, in a way, not the loss of book culture, but the loss of ourselves. We fear losing control of ourselves and of our destiny. This idea is very much linked to the connection that books, through their aesthetics, have with us on a physical and mental level. Pressman uses the looming threat of Alzheimer’s to link humans and our intense desire to save “book culture” to the quest to preserve memory and thus identity and prevent our replacement by and diffusing into the power of digital technologies. As the world around us and all of the media in it continues to evolve and streamline our existence, it is easy to become passive and lose ourselves in it. This digital world that so threatens us, also may be seen as another identity of our “anti-hero” because it too is composed of text like the Ludovician shark. This shark, according to Pressman, “was not viewed solely as devastating predator but also as valuable archive” (Pressman 473). The shark preys on our memories, our identities at the same time as it captures and preserves them because it is, in effect, comprised of them. It does that across media (analog and digital), illustrating at the same time how bookishness has evolved and how media are forever linked to one another and to us as humans as well. With this in mind, one may say that we fear the loss of book culture because on some level, it means losing our singularity, our unique identity and the power of creation and emotional expression that comes with it. Text has and will always continue to have power and prompt creation to fight against these fears because of its ability ensconced in its very nature to encapsulate our fears as well as to provide us with salvation from them. In Pressman’s article, the complex relationships that we have with texts, the digital media, our fears, our changing technological and creative world, and even with ourselves brings about its conceptualization as this antihero; at the same time friend and foe. She notes that our best bet to combatting these so-described “threats” of the “digital revolution” is, according to Pressman, “to explore the interstices between the digital and the bookish” (Pressman 477). Taking the materiality of the page and the power of the word to new, creative, and innovative spaces, embracing traditionally conceptualized digital traits in the print form, continuing to blur those lines of distinction between those media forms is what will assuage those fears of the loss of the “aesthetic of bookishness,” “book culture,” and even, of ourselves at our utmost essence. So, let’s make more monsters.
After reading the article, I have two things that I would like clarification on include the following:
- I was confused by the idea of the “posthuman, cybernetic character” that she discusses on page 476 (Pressman 476). I think that what she’s getting at is that the technological impulse to maintain stability and execute a command successfully in this case at least, resulted in stasis and the downfall of this character, but I wanted to know more about how this connected with the larger theme of the aesthetics of books.
- I also wanted more clarification on what exactly “discourse network 2000” meant for the existence of the Ludovician shark and all of its action in the novel and in the context of Pressman’s argument. I’m thinking that based on the text on page 472 that her employment of this argument as support for her own wants to show us again how the fear of the loss of bookish aesthetics and their power and relevance in our changing society is more deeply a fear of losing ourselves, our memories, or, in other words, the texts that comprise our novella lives to a larger anthology personified by the digital age. However, I also think that there is more too it that I’m just not seeing and would love to discuss it further.
After reading the article, the question that I would like to pose is this:
We engage in complex relationships with texts. Whether in the form of a print journal or a digital one, whether the purpose/motivation is creative or academic in nature, has the ability, the power, to cause us to struggle at the same time as it can lead us to a breakthrough, a freedom. How does this marker of the nature of text, of the book specifically, negotiate the terms in which we engage with this medium and how does the technological evolution of what exactly constitutes a book affect these interactions? Who/what is the antihero now? Are we prey or are we saved?