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The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age [Format Kindle]

Sven Birkerts

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Descriptions du produit

What hath the inexpensive personal computer, the portable cassette player, and the CD-ROM wrought? Are books as we know them dead? And does--or should--it matter if they are? Birkerts, a renowned critic, examines the practice of reading with an eye to what the future will bring.

From Publishers Weekly

In his jeremiad, literary critic Birkets predicts that the information superhighway will lead to an erosion of language and a diminishing of sustained critical thought.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Détails sur le produit

  • Format : Format Kindle
  • Taille du fichier : 669 KB
  • Nombre de pages de l'édition imprimée : 273 pages
  • Editeur : Faber & Faber; Édition : First Edition (14 novembre 2006)
  • Vendu par : Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Langue : Anglais
  • ASIN: B004ZM07RK
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Commentaires client les plus utiles sur (beta) 4.1 étoiles sur 5  33 commentaires
68 internautes sur 71 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Did we read the same book? 25 octobre 2004
Par amazon3131 - Publié sur
I encountered this book as part of my sister's college courses. I loved it; she struggled with it, but eventually grasped the point (and got an A+ on her essay, if memory serves).

But I was looking through the essays and comments by other reviewers, and I wondered -- Did we read the same book?

I didn't see a technophobic don't-read-it-online argument; I found an intriguing series of comments on what happens to when readers encounter something alien, and what happens to a culture when what used to be "normal" is now "alien."

Were any of the rest of you forced to attempt Chaucer's Tales in the transliterated, but still semi-original Middle English? Did you find it difficult?

The literary difference between Chaucer and 1900 is approximately the same difference between 1800 and now. We've gained a lot -- you can have my Mac when you pry it out of my cold, dead fingers -- but we've also lost some things that we used to take for granted.

For example, have any of you slaughtered an animal for meat, or even watched someone else do it? Have any of you used an outhouse every day of every year, because there wasn't an alternative? Have you experienced the fear that comes with the knowledge that any illness or injury, no matter how minor, might kill someone? Have you lived in a culture wherein a woman taking a walk at night, or traveling unaccompanied, was assumed to be having illicit sex? (Think about the woman who marries Proteus at the end of Shakespeare's _Two Gentleman from Verona_: Do you really think she would have agreed to marry him if she had any other choice?)

All of that was once normal. It's not any more. Our books have changed along with our culture.

And just as I struggled through Chaucer, Sven Birkerts says that younger students are struggling through older classics like _The Scarlet Letter_, not because the Internet has made us stupid, but because our notions of acceptable sexual behavior and gender roles and family roles and all of the other things that make up "normal" have changed so dramatically that the situations and character responses no longer seem plausible to the modern ear.

(Can you imagine what an educated 1800's person would make of modern works? They'd be as lost with a 2004 novel as the "media generation" is lost with an 1800s novel.)

For what it's worth, that's what I read in this book: that what was understood for centuries as common cultural ground is no longer shared by everyone in our modern world, and, as a result, our literary heritage -- the surviving communications from ancestral generations to subsequent ones -- is less accessible to this generation than it ever was before.

I thought it was a good book, and I'd like to suggest that you read it, too, and see what it says to you.
22 internautes sur 22 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 An elegant elegy 26 août 1999
Par Un client - Publié sur
Birkerts has created both an insightful personal history and an intelligent defense of history and literature. It is perhaps telling that the reviews appearing from other readers are themselves literate and considered, even when criticizing. Clearly, his writing inspired intelligent responses from readers; this may be the highest tribute one could pay any author.
I was led to this book by booksellers of the "Wooden Spoon" type, i.e., proprietors of used-book stores who stubbornly insist on old-fashioned, or possibly historic, standards of both literature and salesmanship. (The Wooden Spoon remains a haven. I'm sure this would please the author.)
Those sympathetic to Birkerts (and who cannot feel at least some affinity for him and the world he is mourning?) will recognize the type of bookman he describes, a type to which he himself belongs: friendly, perhaps a bit curmudgeonly, and always willing to talk with a serious reader.
One aspect of reading which is mentioned but not explicitly discussed is the degree of human interaction which reading engenders. Contrary to the notion of the reclusive bookworm, most serious readers have a gregarious streak that shows itself in "deep" conversation. The loss of the ability to read deeply suggests a concurrent loss of the ability to interact deeply with other people. The very nature of his writing, and the responses herein, suggest a reason for hope. He cannot, after all, be alone in seeking a "deep" connection.
It is comforting to know that bastions of literature yet remain, in some few bookshops and in the minds of writers like Sven Birkerts.
26 internautes sur 29 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 The End(s) of Reading 14 novembre 1996
Par Un client - Publié sur
by Andrew Stauffer

University of Virginia

Sven Birkerts doesn't approve of what you're doing
right now. Reading (or writing) an on-line review of his
recent book, _The Gutenberg Elegies_, is like discussing
an exercise program over hot fudge sundaes: we are
participating in the burgeoning electronic culture that
Birkerts urges his readers to resist. He recommends we
turn off the computer, stop our superficial surfing
through web sites and TV channels, curl up somewhere with
a good book, and -- here's the hard part -- actually read
the thing.

Birkerts argues that reading books has become
difficult for us, precisely because of our saturation
with electronic communications media. Television began
the destruction of reading; the computer and its
electronic attendants have arrived to finish the job.
As Birkerts' argues compellingly, the decline of the
printed word means the tranformation fo the reading
experience, which involves the deep and deliberately slow
processes of imaginative thought. Such experience is
undone by our desire for increasingly rapid movement
across large arrays of text and images -- a desire both
inflamed and fulfilled by evolving systems of electronic

In _The Gutenberg Elegies_, Birkerts claims his place
in a long and noble line of embattled humanists who have
refused the seductions of the technological. According
to Plato, the Egyptian god who introduced writing as a
new technology praised its usefulness as an aid to memory
and wisdom. The king of Egypt, however, took a different
view. He saw the destructive potential of this new form
of communication, which would eradicate the need for
memory and the more patient routes to wisdom. Birkerts
similarly asserts grave doubts about the electronic
dispensations and sunny reassurances of such modern
divinities as Bill Gates and Nicholas Negroponte.
He asks us to tally our losses as we turn from ink marks
on paper to strands of binary code flowing through
microchips. Like the Egyptian king, he fears that we
will learn to access archives without
using our memories, and to command information without
possessing wisdom. We will forget, Birkerts maintains,
the importance of the private reading experience to the
development of our secular souls.

We are unlikely to get a more eloquent champion of the sheer
pleasures of reading books. Birkerts devotes his first
seven chapters to the delightful sensual and mental
phenomonology of the reading process. This is a book
that makes you want to read more books, not by inflicting
guilt so much as by reminding you of the unique
satisfactions they -- including _The Gutenberg Elegies_
itself -- can provide.

The second half of the book considers our "proto-
electronic" age and the slick beasts that slouch towards
Silicon Valley to be born. As the father of a 5-year-old, Birkerts is
particularly anxious about the evolution of human
interaction in the coming decades. Often his book seems
less of an elegy for something that is dead than a
prophetic announcement that the moment of choice has
arrived. In his happier moments, Birkerts
hopes we may still stem the tide of electronic images and
sounds, assert our love of printed materials, return to
that comfortable chair with a cloth-and-paper codex in
hand, and start reading again.

"Reading," for Birkerts, means reading novels. However,
asserting this as an essential activity of humanity is
historically problematic. Novels began to appear only
about 200 years ago, and were themselves greeted by fierce
denunciations from moral leaders, who saw this new
entertainment as a corrupter of souls, an unwholesome
distraction from more serious (i.e., Biblical) reading.
Birkerts position curiously parallels this
one, in that he emphasizes the "soul-making" importance
of literature, now facing its successor in the form of
the unholy electronic multimedia display. Is the novel
another shell we've outgrown, or are we abandoning it, as
Birkerts claims, "at our peril?" Birkerts neglects the
similarly short history of the private reading private
reading experience he champions, itself a luxury of the
upper and rising middle classes of the past two centuries, who
could afford literacy, leisure, and light to read by.

One can only praise _The Gutenberg Elegies_ as a moving
record of one man's ongoing struggle with our brave new world.
Even Birkerts' blind spots -- his inability to appreciate
anything technological, his insufficient consideration of
history -- are the result of his passionate sincerity.
Everywhere his prose reminds us of its writer's commitment to
intelligent human discourse: our birthright, which we may
be trading away for a mere mess of data.
19 internautes sur 22 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 A VOICE IN THE WILDERNESS 22 avril 2000
Par Rick Pierce from Univ. of Pitt at Bradford - Publié sur
Occasionally while I was reading Sven Birkerts' The Gutenberg Elegies, something inside me would repeat the words, "a voice crying out in the wilderness." I first came across this image in the Old Testament. I think it appears in Isaiah and is repeated by Christ in one, if not more than one, of the gospels. If I remember correctly, Christ says that this image was Isaiah prophesying the life of John the Baptist. The voice I heard said the words stolidly and slowly with a pause after "voice" and "out." "A voice, crying out, in the wilderness." It still does.
And while I don't mean to liken Birkerts to John the Baptist or suggest that he is the immediate predecessor of a messianic figure, I do think the Old Testament image is fitting. Sven Birkerts is a sort of voice crying out in the wilderness. Only his wilderness is not the harsh deserts of the Middle East but the one that's the same as our's--the new technological wilderness of the infant millennium.
Published in 1984, before the arrival of the millennium, The Gutenberg Elegies is a collection of personal essays in which Birkerts examines his relationship to reading and writing and meditates on what the influx of electronic data, particularly the Internet, means and will mean to literature in the future. Simply put, Birkerts does not like new technologies. He believes that their ability to connect people is over-rated, if not something to be feared. While he can not disagree with the fact that electronic media such as e-mail and the Internet make people more connected, Birkerts feels they diminish the quality of our connections. He thinks the sheer number of avenues with which we can communicate scatters our attention and drains our energy and results in shallower interactions.
Of course, there are those who say that Birkerts is over-reacting. And doubtless, there are still others who think that Birkerts' writings are sparked by a self-centered fear that the new technologies are going to mean the end of his livelihood and take away power from the elite literary class he and other writers (and publishers) belong to. I disagree with those who maintain that Birkerts is writing out of self-interest. I think he is simply a man who loves to read and write and is genuinely concerned about the future of these activities.
7 internautes sur 7 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Needed to be said 10 août 2007
Par Maxie - Publié sur
I was very sympathetic to Birkerts's argument and point of view, and I agree with reviewer "amazon3131," who "didn't see a technophobic don't-read-it-online argument." Birkerts is making a case for both reading and thinking, which do seem to be rapidly slipping away -- and I am grateful for his observations, and hope that the image-besotted younger generation pays attention (which they probably won't). I did, however, find that, although Birkerts's prose is always intelligent and articulate, and sometimes eloquent, it was too often tedious and redundant. In some of the later chapters of Part 1, in particular, he really tends to bang the reader over the head with ideas that are interesting but perhaps not quite as profound as he seems to think they are. And some of the sentences would make the wonderful William Zinsser cringe (e.g., "The postmodern artifact manipulates its stylistic signatures like Lego blocks and makes free with combinations from the formerly sequestered spheres of high and popular art. Its combinatory momentum and relentless referencing of the surrounding culture mirror perfectly the associative dynamics of electronic media," p. 123 -- now there's a man who's a little too much in love with alliteration and the sound of his own words, tho' I'm aware this may have been his attempt to have a little fun with the reader and/or attempt to mimic the technology that he's critiquing . . . but still, one wishes Mr. Birkerts and/or his editor had brushed up on Zinsser's ON WRITING WELL . . . ).

Nonetheless, I was gratified to find and read this book: Birkerts has something important to say, and often says it well. I despair, though, that it will reach the right people, or enough of them . . .
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