succession of dominant media, coovers optimism

Robert Coover waited until 1992 to announce that The Book is on its way to the grave where it will lie as “dead as God.”  While the general readership of the New York Times would find this a novel and excitingly bold statement of imminent change (something everyone fetishes nowadays>see “snomg” trends, haiti obsession, climate change, 2012) I don’t buy that the idea  is anything new, even in the nineties, and I don’t like the succession that Coover wants to illustrate.  Luckily most of the article does its journalistic duty, which is to provide background and to demystify an intriguing but obscure new cultural phenomenon.

I suppose my main dissatisfaction with Coover’s position is a reaction to a statement that isn’t even his:

Mr. Joyce, who is also the author of a printed novel, “The War Outside Ireland: A History of the Doyles in North America With an Account of their Migrations,” wrote in the on-line journal Postmodern Culture that hyperfiction “is the first instance of the true electronic text, what we will come to conceive as the natural form of multimodal, multisensual writing,” but it is still so radically new it is hard to be certain just what it is.

The first instance?  Where is photography?  Film? Television? The transfer of cultural dominance from the novel was not occurring in 1992 to “Afternoon” and its contemporary texts, it was occurring in 1922 to film (when Joyce and Eliot began to react to it in content and style).  Film gave it to television and television to the internet.  Coover wastes no time leveling this claim: that the novel is

perceived by its would-be executioners as the virulent carrier of the patriarchal, colonial, canonical, proprietary, hierarchical and authoritarian values of a past that is no longer with us.

While I agree that the novel does carry all of these nasty pasts with it, to call it the, as in the the sole carrier is absurdly shortsighted.  And a past that is no longer with us?  This moment arrises and fades pretty quickly in the article, but it should stop the reader and prompt at least a second glance.  She should note that all of those values are with us yet–anyone who has spent five frames worth of time in a cinema or in front of a television set knows that we are not out from under the shadow of ANY of the values Coover wants to tie exclusively to the novel (or the book–not enough distinction for me there.).  Rather it would seem that they have permeated more deeply into our culture, perhaps in relation to the burial of the past with which they are so tightly linked, a past that is still with us, proven so by the very conversation these quick utterances enter.

The evidence is abundant that ‘books’ will linger and maintain importance and relevance (perhaps of a different kind) throughout the hypertext explosion…  if for no other reason than that I have to rub my eyes after more than three hours in front a screen and start to develop a headache and mild panic episodes. So the material end of books is off the table.  The only other end it seems that is possible is one that happened 88 years ago, and 70 years before Coover weighed in on the death of the books, which is really a statement about the obsolescence of novels.

ian alexander


~ by dukerogersnelson on February 28, 2010.

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