The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age

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Faber & Faber, 1994 - Reference - 231 pages
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In The Gutenberg Elegies, nationally renowned critic Sven Birkerts powerfully argues that we are living in a state of intellectual emergency - an emergency caused by our willingness to embrace new technologies at the expense of the printed word. As we rush to get "on line," as we make the transition from book to screen, says Birkerts, we are turning against some of the core premises of humanism - indeed, we are putting the idea of individualism itself under threat. The printed page and the circuit driven information technologies are not kindred - for Birkerts they represent fundamentally opposed forces. In their inevitable confrontation our deepest values will be tested.
Birkerts begins his exploration from the reader's perspective, first in several highly personal accounts of his own passion for the book, then in a suite of essays that examines what he calls "the ulterior life of reading." Against this, Birkerts sets out the contours of the transformed landscape. In his highly provocative essay "Into the Electronic Millenium" and in meditations on CD-ROM, hypertext, and audio books, he plumbs the impact of emerging technologies on the once stable reader-writer exchange. He follows these with a look at the changing climate of criticism and literary practice. He concludes with a blistering indictment of what he sees as our willingness to strike a Faustian pact with a seductive devil.

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The Gutenberg elegies: the fate of reading in an electronic age

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Birkerts, the author of three books of criticism (American Energies, LJ 6/1/92), has written a collection of 14 essays discussing the changing role of reading as "culture has begun to go through what ... Read full review

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