The not-so-imminent death of the novel
A lot of people in the humanities and publishing industries spend a lot of time wringing their hands and furrowing their brows over the predicted downfall of scholarship and the decimation of reading.
So it’s nice to read something positive about the digital revolution in humanities, as Kathleen Fitzpatrick (member of the digitally-inclined, NEH-funded MediaCommons for intellectual exchange between scholars, students and the public) offers in the most recent issue of Humanities. She answers questions on blogging as the next step in novelization, the conversation brewing in scholarly circle, and the supposed death of the novel.
From the September/October 2009 issue of Humanities, a publication of the NEH:
The first video MTV aired was the Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star.” Has the television killed the novel?
The death of the novel has been greatly exaggerated. If not, how could we possibly have a project like Infinite Summer, in which hundreds of people are reading Infinite Jest together?
Or will the Internet kill it?
It might change it, but it won’t kill it. In fact, the Internet gives the lie to many of our anxieties about the state of reading right now; so many people are reading and writing so much online that it becomes crystal clear that ‘no one reads anymore’ really means ‘no one reads anything I think is good anymore.’
With all of the emphasis on digital will anyone read an actual book made of paper in twenty years?
Absolutely! The actual book form isn’t dying, any more than radio died when television came along. It’s just that radio developed a particular niche that wasn’t replicated by television. Similarly, books will survive, but the kinds of things we want to read in print versus the kinds of things we want to read digitally will gradually differentiate.
A dissident voice telling us that the future of the book isn’t all binary code and Kindles. Weird – a breath of fresh (and optimistic) air seems to have just wafted through here.