In Sync With Literature: Asking What the Book Wants

Posted on April 28, 2013

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The “horcrux” of a literary work is the golden ticket any literary analyst pursues. It’s the light bulb that turns on when the author’s intent shines through the narration and into the eyes of the reader. It’s as though the key finally fits the lock in the dark, and the lock on the front door of the house clicks open, making it possible to get a closer read of the environment. With this a reader becomes illuminated and sated as they navigate the text. At this moment a piece of the author – his will – is simultaneously entering the reader. This happens physically, albeit through a visceral portal. An author achieves this union with the reader by pacing them with complication amid passages of great tension or importance. They use brevity when they know a reader will steal every moment to read when the plot starts to unravel. They can end chapters meaningfully, considering those words may be the last a body reads, echoing over them as they pull the covers over themselves (and the story).

Impregnating an unknowing reader with perspective is a skill writers work lifetimes to hone. Their greater challenge may be finding an audience to have their way with. In other words, they can deliver satisfaction, but not necessarily achieve saturation.  Digital interfaces can help authors gather massive audiences (go viral) with added ease of finding, reading, and sharing their work at literally any hour of the day, from anywhere in the world. Printed works are consumed much more slowly, traveling at a much slower speed to reach a reader, often going to bed with the sun, and ultimately being more hesitantly handed over for sharing. Readers covet books like former lovers.

Can this kind of intimacy with the story can be achieved digitally? I believe it is possible, but only with the addition of multimedia content to compensate for the loss of ability to manipulate the reader’s physical engagement. I think this exploration has the enormous potential to reach out and touch an audience, as is proclaimed by AMSR artists, who attempt to cause a physical reaction to auditory and visual stimuli. The digital makes it easier to deliver intent, but transforms a reader from an authored participant who lingers with the text to a viewing audience member.  And the latter way of passing time may not appeal to the individual who delights in the artful use of language. And likewise, an author may not have the ability or the interest in multimedia endeavors.

But consider asking the book its permission to be amended or reformatted. Ask about relocating its audience, however briefly. Knowing the challenges it faced to get that audience, not every book would be comfortable or feel effective in anything other than three dimensions. How would the characters within react to being edited in such a way after being accustomed to their way of life? What if a story – a book – knew it was going to be digitally replicated, and it feared that replicant would outperform it by Darwin’s standards? Does House of Leaves, for example, fight for its continued survival on the physical plane, accumulating mass, and adapting the ability to deliver its own horcrux in an author’s absence or indifference. HoL may need reassurance of purpose, much in the same way humans do amid technology.

Books achieve near immortality. Their very form is their content, and they become relics worthy of reverence. Digital literary platforms publish and spread works rapidly, but digital literature and digital discussion are both possibly fleeting content, through no fault of their own. They just happen to reside in an environment not known for longevity. Digital content does not become a relic of its own volition, it requires us to create it. The relic we create through the digital forces us to bend or amend the very definition of ‘relic,’ which not be fair to the word relic , or that which it originally named. What’s in a name?

Relic

noun

1. a surviving memorial of something past.
2. an object having interest by reason of its age or its association with the past: a museum of historic relics.
3. a surviving trace of something: a custom that is a relic of paganism.
4. relics.
a. remaining parts or fragments.
b. the remains of a deceased person.
5. something kept in remembrance; souvenir; memento.

Our digital relics are not going to survive or remain in the physical world. Even though we can create digital replicas of handwriting styles, tablets, and books, they are only as temporary as the current that powers our digital endeavors. Etched stone slabs have outlasted Reel to Reel, Dialup, Floppy Discs, and likely Myspace. There’s a good chance the Rosetta Stone will outlast the C Prompt.

Personally, this reader feels House of Leaves is one book which definitely would not be as successful a piece of art and literature in an electronic form. It couldn’t replicate true, lasting digital relics. Part of its splendor rests in an ability to elicit wonderment and awe from its audience (house guests) as they explore its pages and investigate the numbers of the Fibonacci sequence (………….), or see if the pages can be folded in ways that build a readable and sound structure. You also cannot electronically duplicate the ability to open and fan through a book’s pages with a friend. These acts are not so easily done on electronic devices if they can be done at all. This is one book whose majesty is more quickly and elegantly shared in a physical form.

Because House of Leaves is printed on paper, I also get some needed relief  from knowing that horcrux can’t get in my head when I turn off the lights and put it face-down on the night stand. But at the same time, as I lie in bed ruminating on the content, I can reach over to that same night stand and pick up an electronic device to search the HoL forums as a way to scratch that nagging itch. But does that lend any relief, or are we itching ourselves raw in the new-found ability to pursue the unknown ad infinitum? Because we know that eternity, like the Fibonacci sequence of “nesting doll narration” in House of Leaves – can’t be grasped. Maybe ours is not to wonder why, maybe this is not for us.

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