The Death of Print

Since I’ve been stuck at home due to the blizzard, I’ve had more time to think about week three’s readings. I found one line in The Polyglot Manifesto II to be most memorable: “[l]et me immediately clarify that I am not saying that print is dead [author is; god is].” Even though it’s a side comment, Sepoy has made a great comparison. Personally though, I find the differences between those deaths even more interesting. The shift to digital text strikes me as a technical process, followed by deep social and psychological consequences, whereas secularization and new ways of interpreting texts (i.e., the deaths of God and author) refer directly to social and psychological change.

One of the most famous references to the death of God is in Nietzsche in section 125 of The Gay Science, where a mad man announces that God is dead and, then, realizes that he made his announcement too early. This isn’t—if I understood those lectures on Nietzsche back when I was an undergrad—just an acknowledgement that many people in the West stopped believing in a Christian God. It’s about a fundamental change in the way people think. Christianity is more than just a belief in God. A general world view goes with any religion. Some Christians, I imagine, believe that God must have existed before the creation of the universe or that there is a divine hierarchy in nature with human beings at the top. If people accept that God is dead, then there will be deep changes in their mentality.

I’m less familiar with the death of the author. According to Wikipedia, it comes from an article from Ronald Barthes, which influenced both Derrida and Foucault. Barthes thought that it is a mistake to incorporate what one believes about an author—about his or her religion, ethnicity, politics, etc—into one’s interpretation of a text. Presumably, then, ignoring the author and focusing on the text as it is will open up new interpretations. This approach fundamentally changes the way people read and understand the written word.

While the death of print, as I argue above, will lead to fundamental changes in people’s mentality, the death of print itself is just a physical change. It refers to the way the written word circulates and how one encounters text. There is a big difference between what, on the one hand, one sees on a computer screen and, on the other hand, the profound and subtle changes in the way people think after a lifetime of reading and manipulating text on a screen.

Maybe I am making too much of the differences, but at least I can say that the Polyglot Manifesto I and II made me more interested in the death of print. Now, I want to find an author who has a strong argument for the death of print, which I hope he or she thinks is a positive development, regardless of how many newspapers go out of business. I suppose that author would be like Nietzsche’s mad man, this time announcing that old print is dead, a change the author of the Polyglot Manifesto and many others are not yet ready to accept.

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2 Comments on “The Death of Print”

  1. John Lemza Says:

    Laszlo,
    I appreciate your comments on how the shift to digital text can generate deep social and psycological consequences. I think that phenomenon is already occuring. Perhaps too as you say “ignoring the author and focusing on the text as it is will open up new interpretations.” But then as Nietzsche said, “God is dead,” it is now God who says, “Ah, but now Nietzsche is dead.”

  2. Beka Says:

    Interesting post, Laszlo. When I read the Manifesto , that line stuck out to me, and I’m glad you picked up on it to explore it more. I think it’s especially pertinent for those of us who plan to go onto a field where publishing is encouraged or even required.


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