Gutenberg Elegies: duration and distraction


Right away as I begin the reading (my second time–I read the 1994 edition earlier this summer) I hear and see in the new introduction lots of oppositions and antinomies, phrases that indicate and figure what reading is (for SB) vs. what technology has done to reading. I am going to list a few here as I keep reading, then go back to one or two and dig in, see what I notice about these oppositions.

digital bit vs. material atom

life hurried and fragmented by technology vs. life slow and frustrating, vivid in material totality (xii)

deep transformation in the nature of reading: shift from focused, text-centered engagement to far more lateral kind of encounter (restless, grazing, clicking, scrolling): xiv

duration vs. distraction; counter-technology (anti-technology) vs. technology

page vs. screen


I am noticing a fairly narrow defintion (and from this, narrow view) of ‘technology.’ The phrase “counter-technology of the book” raises a problem. He is so sharply defining things in terms of the binary opposition book vs. technology, he neglects historical perspective on book technology. The book is a technology–as is the writing it contains. Indeed, he glides over the fact that book publication was a major technological invention and innovation; and that the digital revolution is often thought of as the most transformational invention since the printing press. I first went to this book (and thought it would be helpful in the course) wanting more historical perspective on what “Gutenberg” means for literature and reading–in other words, what the technology of reading/writing books is about and how that compares/contrasts with more recent technologies of reading and writing in digital environments. Thus far, I don’t see much historical perspective on what “book” means; rather, see him taking the object of a book for granted–and assuming that its main difference from the ‘electronic’ text (screen, etc) is that the book is an actual object whereas the other is not. But books are made from printing technologies–and still made from printing technologies that have migrated to digital formats and still involve electronic components [a point that Katherine Hayles will make]. And aren’t digital technologies such as computer screens objects?


On page xiv he defines “Literature” very narrowly as fiction–then asserts that fiction is under assault by nonfiction. What’s up with his view of nonfiction? Is he adding fiction vs. nonfiction to the reading vs. technology list of binaries? Is nonfictional somehow more technological and fiction more artful? This is where these binaries get interesting because they start to slip and slide. One of the things I particularly wonder: he includes ‘memoir’ in his definition of nonfiction–yet his own book (also nonfiction) relies on autobiographical perspective and experince, as he tells us in the introduction. His focus is on something he calls “private self.” A contradiction?

Does the ‘digital bit’ have material atoms in it?

What does he mean by reverie?


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