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Reading the World versus Byte-Perception - Publisher´s Forum Berlin 2018

WARNING: this is a liquid text, the author´s mother tongue is Portuguese; so feel free to suggest corrections, grammatical, semantics, orthography. Thanks.

So symptomatic that I swallowed the poison by accident: a re-read of a fragment without its author. My sister just published on a trendy social media an image of the very three possible stages of learning linguistics and logic; pre-syllabic, syllabic and literacy; moments before I had the idea to write this article. Coincidence? It doesn´t matter, but on that very moment came out of my mind the expression, that, for a quick lapse of time, lucky me it was quick, I could enjoy the thinking as if it was mine, immediately rescued by recollecting the noble author, Prof. Paulo Freire: the Reading of World, before the word has even born. The expression was embodied in me, asleep, and came to the surface without cover, an idea fallen from a line, off a page, few bytes alight on my mind.

Not by a chance, I retrieved from my files an exclusive interview I had the privilege to make with Professor Roger Chartier aiming to understand the “reading in the time of digital supports” and it was exactly a decade ago. Enough accidental also, the interview was conducted in English by a Brazilian who was the middleman between organizers of a major literary event in the deep South of Brazil, the Jornada Literária de Passo Fundo (Literary Journey of Passo Fundo) and Chartier gave his speech in Spanish. Follow an excerpt of the interview:

First: how can we say anything reliable about the future of the book given the speed of change in the digital revolution and the deep historical entrenchment of the practices associated with the publishing and reading of printed books?

It is difficult for everyone and still more for the historians who have proved that they are the worst prophets. We can only underline that the digital revolution is really a new one because it associates a technical revolution (from the codex to the computer), a morphological one (from the page to the screen) and a cultural one (from the work as such to the decontextualized fragments). In this sense, all the conditions are there for erasing the different inheritances of the past: the codex, the printed book, the copyright, the continuous reading practice. The only caveat to this diagnosis of a radical discontinuity is linked to the coexistence today and I suppose in the future (but until when ?)- between the digital world and the other form of composing, publishing and appropriating texts: handwriting and printing. The main challenge is to understand how differently according to places, social milieux, generations or textual genres this coexistence is constructed. It is the only way to establish a diagnosis about the future stressing either the erasure of our classical categories of our order of discourse (the concepts of work, copyright, property, singularity and originality) by a new regime of production of discourse in which the texts are fragmented, malleable, open, and without author) or the resistance of the printed book for genres like essays, hovels, history, etc.

Second: how have you seen the reading habit evolving with the digital trend?

For me the more important transformation is not the generalization of a fragmented, discontinuous, reading in front the screen but its consequence: the erasure of the relation between any fragment of a work and this work as such. The codex allows or imposes this relation by its materiality itself. No one is obliged to read all the pages of a printed book but the object itself imposes the perception of the totality, the coherence, the logic of the entire work. In the digital world, the fragment like a data in a database or in a website is detached from the textual entity from which it is extracted. In this case, the cultural practice of the discontinuous attention and the morphological structure of the electronic textuality are linked for challenging the traditional definition of what is a book, or a text. Will this definition, that is based on the idea of the coherence of the discourse either narrative or demonstrative, be able to survive? or will the new order of discourse be a juxtaposition of disconnected textual fragments? I do not know. Who knows?” Kindly, Roger Chartier - Professeur au Collège de France

Back to the present time, while we bump into a concept that was not just yet a hash tag when Chartier replied to me in 2010, reason why he did not use the word “disruptive”, as a spring of momentaneous advancement of the present time, in business, in the family, in the notion of ethics and moral, of frontiers (please, read it as in general, unfortunately), of aesthetic standards (what is beauty, what is art, or what is not even being so?), of the human gender conditions (from the classic male and female to the neo-in-vitro e multi-facetal non-reproductive), spring of a transitory advancement also of people, animals and things, I nail down without fear of error, if Reading the World thouroughly was impossible, it became nowadays the most challenging of utopias.

Within the territory of the reality, provided we all agree that it is impossile to read entirely the timeless space to our reach, we have the traffic, continuous or intermitent, of data and information, destiled into images, quantities, sizes, directions of movement, static places of transitories, supports of transportation and speed variation, where there is a permanent tension between individual rights (rightful?) with collective interest, under a gray cloud of a soma of “self” shocking in the sky with a cloud of “us” bound to fall over a minority (qualified or not?), there is no place for any kind of idelogy, synonymous of wreckage of left wing, right wing, capital, and State. I see a new notion emerging and occasionally useful perhaps (not necessarily a source of wealth or power), a byte-perception. How much can your buffer hold? Regardless the answer, we are all products.

The problem is that each day we generate on earth 2.5 quintillions of bytes of data and 90% of that were generated in the last two years. Warning by a dinosaur from the Assembler and Fortran era, to the new come sailors: there are unimaginable units of bytes out there, from the so well known gigabyte to the terabyte, then comes the petabyte, exabyte, zettabyte. Not enough? Yottabyte and so on.

As the subject remains reading, I reach for help in the old Greek reservoir of a same era (four centuries before Christ – how many true thinkers that era generated), the concept of hedonism, before and after Epicurus, the notion of ignorance by a certain youngst student of Socrates via the Allegory of the Cave, who taught Aristotle, the founder of the Lyceum and its papyrus scrolls (by the way, to read one needed the help of two to unroll while walking along the long strip) teacher of Alexander, succeeded by Ptolomy, ok, we have reached the Library of Alexandria. We still need it, as never before, in all formats.

Chronicle written during the Berlin Publisher´s Forum

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