From Cremation to Degradation: Material Representations of Book-Death in the Age of Obsolescence
It has become a cultural commonplace that the book is dying or dead. Simultaneously, there exist more books in the world than at any other historical moment. Why then the persistence of these cultural fears? Through analyses of contemporary novels, my thesis makes three interconnected arguments: historical, cultural, and methodological. The first traces and historicizes the changes in literary representations of book-death over the past seventy years, from the early Cold War dystopian novel’s depictions of authoritarian censorship to more contemporary representations of books as technologically obsolete. The second assesses the cultural implications embedded in these differing representations of book-death and the supersession of digital media in the age of obsolescence. The third demonstrates the insufficiency of ideological critique in explaining the phenomenon of these cultural fears existing simultaneously with book-overabundance. Instead, this thesis argues the necessity of a material analysis of books and other media that considers how the medium’s affordances and limitations partially determine its ideological position, even and especially in the realm of representation.
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