The book will kill the cathedral, and the computer will kill the book.

According to Umberto Eco in “The Future of the Book” symposium in San Marino, “Ceci tuera cela”. This means any of three things according to the article: the alphabet will kill images, the book will kill the cathedral, or the computer will kill the book.

The alphabet has been around for centuries, yet images still remain; however, how images are depicted has changed, in some ways directly relative to the other two meanings. For purposes of the class though, this is the least essential meaning of the three, as it did not kill images and what it altered can be explained in the context of the other two.

The book will kill the cathedral, well cathedrals are based on the Bible/Torah/Qu’ran/whichever basic religious text pertaining to said cathedral. So in that sense the book and the cathedral are integrated. However, once books became more commonplace and gained some variety, interest in the nunnery and monastery seemed to decline. Perhaps people could not restrain themselves from the temptation of a good yet “sinful” book.

The computer will kill the book, it seems partially on its way, although I for one doubt books will ever completely die. Computers offer more flexibility in form and function, as well as breaking free of standard conventions of the book world. New hypertext and coded text has rendered the simple page obsolete, which ultimately seems to be Eco’s point.

Cave images were forever altered by the invention of alphabet, people continued to draw but it was no longer the primary means of communication. This process became even more streamlined by the printing press, allowing for text to be produced in multiples and allowing for the first “printed” texts. No longer was it the norm to handwrite and hand-copy entire manuscripts. Perhaps this was what Eco meant by killing the cathedral; a primary function of medieval religious life was the transcription by hand of large texts, with the printing press and subsequently the book this was no longer necessary. As the book evolved, it became more versatile, with bound varieties replacing flimsy leather backing. Mass production of books has allowed text, and with it knowledge, to spread across the world in a way that Gutenberg or the cave painters would never have thought possible. Yet further still the industry pressed, until recently texts have appeared online. As with any new entity, the first few attempts were flawed at best, but the versatility of a visual stimulus and moving images with which to work has allowed the online text to thrive.

Given that at one time mere letters seemed revolutionary, is there more to be had beyond the online text, perhaps centuries down the road or perhaps merely a few years? Will the online text ever be rendered obsolete by some additional invention, allowing for an advance not yet imagined?


~ by diamondace on February 28, 2010.

One Response to “The book will kill the cathedral, and the computer will kill the book.”

  1. yes. But the folks who dig online won’t let it die. It’s like black and white film: sure Kodak is planning on not making it any more, but other companies, someone who is genuinely interested will keep it alive. And, even if it (film, internet, books) dies out for a few hundred or thousand years or whatever, someone somewhere sometime will pick up one of those old things and say: this is exactly what I’m looking for.
    The alphabet didn’t kill the painting because people still HAD to paint.
    It’s a drive. The internet will re-define the concept of the book, but I think this is a reflexive process involving a multitude of slowly morphing stylistic changes. They live in tandem and people still HAVE to write. It’s a drive. It’s something that some must do. If they do it, then someone somewhere will pick it up sometime. I mean, look at Shakespeare.

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