2009

  • Barbara Stiegler, “On the Future of Our Incorporations: Nietzsche, Media, Events,” trans. Helen Elam in Discourse 31.1-2 (2009) 124-139

130: “What Nietzsche contests … is that the media extension of the central nervous system has automatically increased our sense of responsibility and our capacity to sympathize. McLuhan thinks naively [sic] that it is enough to extend the central nervous system electrically for it to become more compassionate and responsible: ‘In the electric age, when our central nervous system is technologically extended to involve us in the whole of mankind and to incorporate the whole of mankind in us, we necessarily participate, in depth, in the consequences of our every action. … Electric speed in bringing all social and political functions together in a sudden implosion [sic] has heightened human awareness of responsibility to an intense [sic] degree.’ Nietzsche describes to the contrary a fatal turn. At the point where the technical conditions of compassion toward the other and incorporation of the remote accumulate, one has to recognize on the contrary that man’s digestive [sic] capacities are weakened.”

  • Peter Green, “Google Books or Great Books?,” review of Anthony Grafton,World Made by Words: Scholarship and Community in the Modern West(Harvard 2009), Times Literary Supplement (17 July 2009)

“From the first heady days of fifteenth-century incunabula, the Gutenberg invention of the printed book, which wrote finis to handwritten manuscripts and was the prime factor in advancing Renaissance humanism, continued, until very recently, to dominate world culture as the one irreplaceable instrument of cultural communication. But in the past decade or so the computer and the internet have ushered in a revolution as fundamental as Gutenberg’s, and rather more apocalyptic in its claims. Books are as dead as their paper, we are told. Digital collections will not only replace but improve on them. In 2006 Kevin Delley of Wired wrote in theNew York Times that very soon ‘all the books in the world’ will ‘become a single liquid fabric of interconnected words and ideas.’ Counter-arguments were not slow in coming. One of the best-informed, most thorough, and most truly passionate came, not surprisingly, from Anthony Grafton. … As an immensely learned devotee of the book in all its aspects, physical no less than metaphysical (incidentally, the medium may be the message, but there is not one word here about Marshall McLuhan), Grafton is well aware of the historical company he is keeping, and of the political implications involved: defenders of manuscripts against printed works warned that the widespread and inexpensive dissemination of texts, biblical or other, would not only vulgarize and vitiate the aristocracy of high scholarship, but put undesirable ideas into the heads of the masses, who (of course) were not intellectually equipped to understand them properly. So must the first advocates of the Phoenician alphabet have been attacked by scribes trained in pictographic systems or syllabaries. Nowadays the common complaints are not all that different: blogs encourage creeping illiteracy, and–an example that Grafton himself picks up–though a computer-generated thesaurus may enable the scholar to display the kind of arcane references once controlled only by a Scaliger or a Bentley, these are mere top-dressing, and no proof of learning. … It is much to Grafton’s credit that he has taken the trouble to acquaint himself in detail with this new virtual world, and to sort out its advantages as carefully as its unforeseen dangers.

  • Marshall McLuhan, “Plain Talk,” reprinted from The Mechanical Bride (1951) in Roland, issue 1 (May 2009), published by the ICA [Institute for Contemporary Art], London, and its Visual Art Programme. [McLuhan corresponded with Roland Penrose, the founder of the ICA.]