The continuation of this blog will focus of the modules Libraries and Publishing in an Information Society (LAPIS). Future posts will likely be an examination of class notes and analysis of any outside reading undertaken for this part of the #citylis course.
Benjamin on Intellectuals
Walter Benjamin’s “The Author as Producer” served as the main text for the first session of the term. Various points were addressed including the understanding of an intellectual’s position within the means of production of their works. Benjamin (p.92) expressed the issues surrounding the introduction of intellectuals into the struggle of the proletariat:
The metamorphosis of the political struggle from a drive to make a political commitment into an object of contemplative pleasure, from a means of production into an article of consumption, is characteristic of this literature.
Benjamin stated that, if the intellectual is unwilling to recognise his or her position, then he or she will not make the necessary connections with the proletariat. While originally a piece on publishing and Marxist politics, the need for authors to position themselves within the social context of their time and realise their own bias and privilege still rings true today.
Fixity and E-Books
Benjamin cricised those producers who place too much emphasis on content rather than form. The class discussion regarding content and form of e-books reminded me of my research for a paper on Gutenberg’s printing press and its influences on the LIS professions. Specifically, I recalled Elizabeth Eisenstein’s term “typographical fixity”. Simply defined, the term means the permanence of an original written work. Before the printing press, many classical works had been lost, but, with the introduction of the press, massive amounts of copies were created and disseminated lessening the chances that a work would be lost forever.
With the introduction of e-books, authors and publishers can easily edit and update the books as they wish, and customers can choose to receive or reject these changes. Each time a person turns on their Kindle, they may encounter a new version of a published work. Thus, fixity no longer exists due to the original work vanishing from the electronic readers. A multitude of updates can be performed, which leads to each new incarnation being perceived as a new work just as each edition of a past book is considered a separate creation. In his post “Words in stone and in the wind”, Nicholas Carr explored in further detail the loss of fixity in relation to editions, permanence, and completion of works. Here I will close with a quote from Carr (2012) in which he describes the impact of technology on print culture:
The permanence of a book is not just a function of technology, of course. Many other factors – laws, commercial interests, reader preferences and habits – also exert an important influence. But technology matters, and it seems likely that we’ll be celebrating, and rueing, the consequences of today’s epochal shift from printing to electronic publishing for centuries to come.
References and Further Reading
Adams, E., 2010. Content and Form Aren’t Equal: A Discussion with Ernesto Priego. [online] Phoenicia Publishing. Available at: [Accessed 5 Feb. 2015].
Benjamin, W., 1970. The Author as Producer. New Left Review, (62), pp.83–96.
Carr, N., 2012. Words in stone and on the wind. ROUGH TYPE. Available at: [Accessed 3 Feb. 2015].
Coetzee, J.M., 2015. The evolution of Walter Benjamin’s masterpiece. [online] the Guardian. Available at: [Accessed 2 Feb. 2015].
Eisenstein, E.L., 2005. The printing revolution in early modern Europe. Second ed. New York: Cambridge University Press.