Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Friday, September 24, 2010

authors' libraries

Conor Friedersdorf sends me a link to this story about attempts to recover and reassemble the libraries of dead writers. Sad and curious. . . . But of course — someone has to ask this question, so it might as well be me — what about future writers whose libraries are partly or largely contained in their e-readers? You could hold in your hand years of careful annotations and provocative underlinings. Or, conversely, you could discover that a member of the family had erased everything on Dad's device and replaced it with his or her own books. In that case — supposing the e-reader is a Kindle — could a deputation of scholars go to Amazon to see whether any of those annotations survive on Amazon's servers, and if so, whether they could be bequeathed to some library or archive? Or made available to anyone who wants to see them as a public service? (Amazon's own purely digital literary archive.) Strange times ahead, perhaps.


  • This is similar to another technology side-effect that has bothered me: the loss of holographic manuscripts. It used to be that scholars could learn a great deal about an author's working habits, the evolution of the text, etc., by examining manuscripts. But now that books are increasingly being composed entirely in the word processor, how many future classics will leave any such raw material? Sure, you can ‘track changes’, but how many of us do? Very, very few. Too often today, as authors edit texts right on the screen, each recension permanently destroys the last, leaving nary a squiggle of ink.

  • Yes indeed — see the other posts here tagged "archives" for other comments.

  • I was pondering this yesterday from a different angle. One of my prized possessions is a Glen Miller record that belonged to my grandfather. If we admit that ipods make bad heirlooms, what will we pass down that preserves the physical history of an embodied human being through the scuffs and skips of a well-loved album? There's something about physically interacting with something--especially the art--that belonged to someone in the past that gives us sense of identity. How do we ensure we have something to pass along to future generations that isn't mediated by a computer?

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