Archive for April, 2012

April 16, 2012

In Praise of Transitional Technology

I got a Kindle. When this happened, some of my friends raised their eyebrows. They like books, and they know I like books, so why would I add nails to that coffin. Of course, as I am fond of pointing out here (and anywhere), this is both equivocation and unnecessary panic. Books are doing fine in their hard format. Also, and more importantly here, books will still exist, they will just be in a different format. Conceivably, they will be in digital, e-book form.
Before any such complete switch happens, however, methinks the book will have had its revenge on the Kindle. Even if the Kindle turns out to be a soldier in the destruction of the book citadel, it is itself unlikely to be the one standing on the top of the hill victoriously waving a flag. Why? Because, despite what my friend, Miloš Luković wrote here about the elegance of single-function devices (and the Kindle is largely one such), they tend to get incorporated into more complicated digital devices. The iPod lasted a generation or two as a music device only, before it added video, and then with the iPhone transforming completely. Most phones have a music playing function, and nearly all of them have a camera. And the Kindle has its single-function up against the tablet’s complete set of computer functions. Tablets are probably now to lap tops what lap tops were to desktops fifteen years ago. Give the tablet a few more years and it might become the standard computer device for a person or household. Won’t the tablet incorporate the Kindle function?
Perhaps. Around the same time the transience of the Kindle occurred to me, I read that the e-mail attachment turned twenty. The Guardian had an article talking about the man who invented it, Nathaniel Borenstein, how it came about, and where it is today. Now that we have the cloud and social media, how much will the attachment be used? Mr. Borenstein himself makes a decent case that the attachment is still quite useful, but who’s to say that it will not go the way of the PalmPilot?
Which raises another interesting question. How many examples of transitional technology have existed in (let’s say) the last one hundred years (technology-obsessed as they have been)? Music is here the obvious example. Although the radio was not killed by TV, the victrola and the cassette deck are pretty much gone, and the CD is on its way out. Typewriters are another example. In a combination of the two, and a great piece of transitional technology, I found these images over at Colt + Rane.

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I have one more before I leave you without having said anything. I have no idea how scientific or true this is, but

It appears from this that WordPress is still climbing, but for how much longer? Word? Press? In a digital world of images? It just can’t last. Enjoy it while you can.

Post Scriptum
If you follow the above link to the Guardian article about the e-mail attachment, you may notice that the photo of Nathaniel Borenstein was taken, no doubt digitally, and e-mailed to the editor as an attachment, by a Christian Sinibaldi. Where have I heard that last name, Sinibaldi? Ah yes, Antonio Sinibaldi, about whom I wrote this last year: “Antonio Sinibaldi, scribe to the Medicis, who had “an elegant, gracile hand,” was the first major scribe to be put out of work by the Gutenberg machine in 1480.” I wonder if they’re related.

Post Scriptorum
Since it is now the way of the world (or will soon be), I have a tumblr.

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April 8, 2012

Lila Dit Quoi?!

Quelle putain de bon livre!

Where to start with this? I could write about the idea of masculinity in this book; or about the warped conception of sex we’ve been sold and how easily the book calls it into question; or about the dispossessed Arab youth in Parisian suburbs in the mid nineties (about the time La Haine came out); or the limits of idealization; or perhaps the role of writing in a person’s life; or the relation writing and literature have to real life; or the emerging (and hence threatening) female subject in male literature…

But I won’t. I feel it would just ruin the magic, the pure joy, the sheer pleasure, the immanent delight, the elating and surprising wonder I felt reading this book.

Instead, I will sell you on it the way the book was sold in manuscript form to its publishers. (In my own translation) this is what it says when you open the cover:

Note from the editor
The story of the manuscript of this book deserves to be told.
It was delivered directly into our hands by a lawyer. Its author, Chimo, whose name is found in the text, wanted to stay anonymous. We have never met him and know nothing about him.
The manuscript was made up of two red Clairefontaine notebooks, with squared lines on its pages. It did not have a title. We found the phrase “Lila Says” written in capital letters in the margin, atop of page 7. It seemed to us to fit the need.
Chimo’s handwriting, for which he used Bic pens, was difficult to decipher. We settled for correcting spelling errors for the final manuscript. In places, we thought it necessary to retouch the punctuation, which was rather spotty. We have left unchanged one or two passages even though we were unsure of their meaning.
Despite the claims to sincerity in the text, we have come up with our own hypothesis of mystification. We were split in the office on this question. Was it the work of an established writer or the first novel of a talented young writer (in the text, Chimo says he is nineteen and a half)?
Whatever the case, the surprising literary quality of the story, whether or not a ruse, made us publish it.

And indeed made me read it!

They also offer an image of the first page of the manuscript:

April 2, 2012

Character of Gold

If you don’t know about it, Tristram Shandy is a famous 18th century novel. Academics call it the postmodern novel two centuries before the postmodern. What’s more, it’s a great read.

One of the things I remember from the novel, which appeared in nine installments from 1759 to 1767, was part of the author’s dedication before volume IX. The sentence in it I really liked goes like this.
Honours, like impressions upon coin, may give an ideal and local value to a bit of base metal ; but Gold and Silver will pass all the world over without any other recommendation than their own weight.
Laurence Sterne is talking about character, of course. The title of Lord or Duke can be confer importance even upon the most vile man, but true quality of character will shine through anywhere regardless of the approval of powerful people. It is a noble sentiment.

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I am reading David Graeber’s book Debt, which talks about the history of money and credit. I may decide to write something about it when I’m done with it, but I came across this passage and remembered Sterne’s dedication. (The passage is a bit long, so I have chopped it up a little to shorten it, but the thread, I believe is there.)
“Yet the great public debate of the time [1690s], a debate about the very nature of money, was about not paper but metal. […] Something had to be done. A war of pamphlets ensued, which came to a head in 1695, one year after the founding of the bank. Charles Davenant’s essay on credit, which I’ve already cited, was actually part of this particular pamphlet-war: he proposed that Britain move to a pure credit money based on public trust, and he was ignored. […] The man who won the argument, however, was John Locke, the Liberal philosopher, at that time acting as advisor to Sir Isaac Newton, the Warden of the Mint. Locke insisted that one can no more make a small piece of silver worth more by relabeling it a “shilling” than one can make a short man taller by declaring there are now fifteen inches in a foot. Gold and silver had a value recognized by everyone on earth; the government stamp simply attested to the weight and purity of a coin, and – as he added in words veritably shivering with indignation – for governments to tamper with this for their own advantage was just as criminal as the coin-clippers themselves:
“The use and end of the public stamp is only to be a guard and voucher of the quality of silver which men contract for; and the injury done to the public faith, in this point, is that which in clipping and false coining heightens the robbery into treason.”
Therefore, he argued, the only recourse was to recall the currency and restrike it at exactly the same value that it had before. This was done, and the results were disastrous.”
(I added the emphasis, as well as the hyper link, obviously.)

Something interesting is going on here. As far as I know, most countries do not tie their monetary units to the gold standard. Britain went off it in 1931, and the US in 1971. I know that Marx argued against the concept that money ultimately derived its value from gold. Which means that Charles Davenenat was right, and John Locke was wrong. (Doesn’t it?)

But then, where does the value of gold come from? It’s not like Locke invented the idea of precious metals being valuable in themselves. Ancient civilizations already valued gold and silver, and we still do today. What makes them able to “pass the world over without any other recommendation than their own weight,” as Sterne wrote?

Could it be that gold is valuable in the way Davenant claimed money should be, that is, it simply has public trust? Is it valuable for no other reason than that somehow all of humanity (or a large portion of it, anyway) thinks it is valuable? Would that make both Davenant and Locke right, since it is a value based on trust, but is also recognized by everyone on earth?

And what of Sterne’s metaphor? If gold and silver have no intrinsic value, does that debase the metaphor? Should the sentence read “Gold and silver will pas the world over without any other recommendation than that which they already have from everyone, but that’s only because nobody has thought about it?” In which case they are not that different from base metal rendered important with honors. Somehow, this makes me unhappy…