Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Looking Ahead: Theology, Literature, and the impact of Technology

What is the future of theology and the arts in the ever-evolving electronic age? What are the limitations, along with the advantages, which the digital age bequeathes unto literary culture and the "life of the book" in particular?

These are precisely the questions posed by Duke Divinity's Faith and Leadership to literary luminary Sven Birkerts (author of, among others, The Gutenberg Elegies).

Of the many thought-provoking lines which Birkerts offers, this one is paramount:

"I am deeply invested in the idea that books represent something else besides the transmission of knowledge..."

Excerpt Below // Full Article Here

Sven Birkerts is the editor of the journal AGNI and the author of eight books, most notably “The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age.” He has reviewed regularly for The New York Times Book Review, The New Republic, Esquire and other publications, and has taught writing at Harvard, Emerson, Amherst and Mt. Holyoke. He lives in Arlington, Mass.

He spoke with Faith & Leadership while visiting Duke to participate in a public conversation about the future of reading hosted by Duke Magazine.

Q: You wrote a book called “The Gutenberg Elegies” about digital culture and concluded it with a call to refuse it. I imagine you’re not in favor of digital culture.

The book was written right when the first great wave of electronic technology was rolling in. People on many fronts were very quickly turning against stodgy old print. I had an investment in print culture as a teacher, writer and bookseller. I began to wonder what we were so happily abandoning and jumping on board with. The resulting series of meditations raised a lot of questions and ended on a very skeptical note.

Some years later, the publisher wanted to do a new edition. Ten years had passed. In traditional time, 10 years is nothing. In terms of what we’re going through culturally, it’s an enormous time period.

Things had also changed for me. Since I had argued against the “salvation” offered by all that is digital, I had been identified as a Luddite. Many people imagined me living in a cabin with no electricity, making my own ink. But I live in the contemporary world, including as a writer.

In order to carry on with my writing life, I had to make concessions. This book was written originally on a Selectric typewriter. When I wrote the introduction to the revised edition it was on a laptop.

Q: Some of your concessions have been due to being a parent, but you certainly don’t make them without circumspection and sadness.

I tried to adopt a tolerant approach, but also made clear that lifestyle decisions have effects. Even though we gradually acquired more gadgets, our house is also wall-to-wall books. The children saw us reading and living the life of the book. We hoped to model one thing while not holding them back from electronic culture.

Both of my children read intelligently, but sadly both read books as just part of the menu. I am deeply invested in the idea that books represent something else besides the transmission of knowledge, so I feel that they’re losing out.

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