In “The Aesthetic of Bookishness in Twenty-First-Century Literature,” Jessica Pressman describes what she calls “the aesthetic of bookishness” and argues for it as a “literary strategy that speaks to our cultural movement” (465). Pressman acknowledges that there has been an increasingly amount of attention being paid to the death of books and to the defense of these dying books; she focuses on how this has affected and will continue to affect literature. She also focuses on the different responses–both literary and aesthetic–that the changing role of the book are causing.
One important aspect of Pressman’s argument rests on her claim and explanation of books as aesthetic objects. She describes, “Books become aesthetic objects that blur the boundaries between reality and fiction by connecting their book-bound body to the virtual world of digital information” (467). In order to understand Pressman’s argument, one must first wrap his or her mind around what she means when she says “the aesthetic of bookishness.” Here, Pressman tries to further explain herself by asking the reader to think about the links between reality and fiction and the links between the physicality of the book and the digital world.
Much of Pressman’s argument is dependent upon the Ludovician shark, which she references from Steven Hall’s The Raw Shark Texts (2007). She discusses how this book claims “that we live in a world wherein text is no longer contained on the page and information lives invisibly and spreads virally” (469). This is not a real shark that she or Hall are referring to. Rather, this is a conceptual shark. Like we think of the sharks that live in the oceans as predators, so too, is this shark thought of to be a predator–not for other fish and animals in the sea but for the Information Age. Pressman’s purpose for alluding to this shark and the greater work, The Raw Shark Texts, is to illustrate that “The book becomes a medium through which action happens, a place wherein things live, and a physical object which readers manipulate…Here the information channels connecting protagonist and reader operate through the book as a mediating and present example of the novel’s employment of an aesthetic bookishness” (471).
Towards the end of her article, Pressman makes another crucial point to her argument as she defines the novel in terms of its shelter. She argues, “The novel is defined as the privileged site for challenging the standardizing influence of digital culture. Novels provide shelter that is reinforced by their physical frame and their method of circulation; it is not just the content of the books that matters but also the physical nature of book as shelter for the story” (479). Here, Pressman seems to be continuing to think about the book in terms of its posthuman condition as she thinks about shelter as being something that goes beyond the physical book itself. Pressman goes on, “Works that adopt an aesthetic of bookishness respond to their contemporary, digital moment by showing how literature retains a central role in our emergent technoculture as a space for aesthetic expression and cultural critique” (480).
One thing I am confused about is Pressman’s explanation of the novel being situated in the “posthuman condition_.” _Pressman says, “…the posthuman paradigms of cybernetics and digital information espouse that a message can be divorced from its material instantiation for the purpose of transmission, and that doing so always involves an underlying belief about the value (or lack of value) of materiality and bodies” (469). If “posthuman” means existing in a state that is beyond the human, I guess Pressman is saying that the novel is posthuman in the sense that the information goes beyond the bounds of the physical book? Not being able to fully grasp and understand this has inhibited my complete understanding of what Pressman means when she describes the novel as being situated in the “posthuman condition,” which I feel is critical to her argument.
Another thing that I am a bit confused about is what Pressman means by “It is these book-bound spaces that characters, and readers through them, learn to rethink the ways in which we relate to books as objects and media forms” (480). Is Pressman arguing for the importance of physical books (as opposed to digital) here?
As we are beginning to dive into _House of Leaves, _in what ways can we think about this novel as being situated within the posthuman condition? How will doing this help us to better understand the text, the physicality of the book, and the viral information being emitted from the book?