The Future History of the Book: Time, Attention, Convention

  • Kathleen Fitzpatrick


What is the state of the book today? This is not an inquiry after the book’s health. Questions of the book’s ostensible decline have hounded it for decades, if not centuries, and have variously led to the conclusion that the book is dying, or that it is in the prime of its life, depending. I have argued at length elsewhere that anxieties about the book’s obsolescence are frequently driven by the conservative impulse to shore up the hierarchies between the book and newer media forms (and, not at all incidentally, the hierarchies between those who participate in what we might think of as book culture and those who happily engage with newer media), and I hope in this chapter not to dwell for too long on that phenomenon.1 Rather, I am asking after the book’s physical state, in a different sense: is it solid or liquid—or perhaps more pertinently, does it exist in some altogether ambiguous state? The book has always been, like light, both particle and wave—both material substance and transmitted information. I begin by asking about the book’s physical state in order to open a series of questions—and this essay, I should admit up front, is more question than answer—about what might become of the book, and of our relationship to it, as its material substance changes.


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  1. 1.
    See Kathleen Fitzpatrick, The Anxiety of Obsolescence: The American Novel in the Age of Television ( Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 2006 ).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    For an exploration of one manifestation of those grave difficulties, see Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy ( New York: New York University Press, 2011 ).Google Scholar
  3. 6.
    Adrian Johns, The Nature of the Book: Print and Knowledge in the Making ( Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998 ).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 9.
    Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern, trans. Catherine Porter ( Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993 ).Google Scholar
  5. 11.
    Frank Kermode, The Sense of an Ending: Studies in the Theory ofFiction ( New York: Oxford University Press, 1967 ).Google Scholar
  6. 15.
    Naomi Baron, Words Onscreen: The Fate of Reading in a Digital World ( New York: Oxford University Press, 2015 ).Google Scholar
  7. 17.
    Mortimer Jerome Adler, How to Read a Book: A Guide to Reading the Great Books ( New York: Simon and Schuster, 1966 ).Google Scholar
  8. 31.
    Franco Moretti, Distant Reading ( New York: Verso, 2013 ).Google Scholar
  9. 32.
    See Paul Levinson, The Soft Edge: A Natural History and Future of the Information Revolution (New York: Routledge, 1997), 126–127, on the ways that rear-view mirrorism has constrained the development of digital textuality.Google Scholar
  10. 34.
    D. W. Winnicott, “Transitional Objects and Transitional Phenomena: A Study of the First Not-Me Possession,” International Journal of Psycho -Analysis 34 (1953): 89–97.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Babette B. Tischleder and Sarah Wasserman 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kathleen Fitzpatrick

There are no affiliations available

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