"Text means Tissue"

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The future of the book is as a fetish-object-- I think Bessette makes this case compellingly. By referencing Barthes' notion of "Text means Tissue" she provides a highly extendable metaphor: pages as flesh, language as embodied in print, physically inscribed ideas being absorbed through the senses in a private, intimate exchange. It's all very sexy.

She describes the thrill of receiving a fresh copy of her own published work; one can imagine removing the tight shrink-wrap, cracking open the cover for the first time, that initial whiff of new-book smell, the slight shininess of the ink that makes you run your fingers across the page, because you know it's real-- you know this object was carefully assembled from raw, physical components for a purpose. If you are an author, your relationship to the physical text is that much stronger; on some levels, it is masturbatory, and as our culture shifts from print to digital it will likely become increasingly perceived as self-indulgent. In the far future, I imagine printed books will be even further fetishized; they will be taboo, seen as a waste of resources, an extravagance indulged in by hedonists.

Ideas embodied in physical texts have always possessed an alluring power; that they can be owned, collected, bought and sold adds to their appeal. Printed texts are more sacred-- I can't imagine the Pope ever swapping out his gilded first-edition Bible (autographed by Jesus) for the Bible app I have on my smartphone, even though mine is searchable and contains all the versions in every language. For academics, journals are like holy books. Moving "onward and upward" is going to take some time.

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laura8's picture

I never really thought

I never really thought printed books would disappear completely but I hadn't considered them to be more fetishized. But now that you bring it up, I can picture it. People in the future will want to have printed books for a number of reasons - authors wanting copies, favorite books, presents from family members, heirlooms, etc. And I can even picture a future where people who have a number of printed books are seen as horders and wasteful. Having a "library" in your house will make you seem stuffy and extravagant. But I think anyone who thoroughly enjoyed printed books will sympathize. It might be the younger generations who think we're nuts.