Amid radical transformation and rapid mutation in the nature, transmission, and deployment of information and communications, Around the Book offers a status report and theoretically nuanced update on the traditions and medium of the book. What, it asks, are the book’s current prospects?
The study highlights the most radical experiments in the book’s history as trials in what the author terms the “Prevailing Operating System” at play within the fields of knowledge, art, critique, and science. The investigations of modern systems theory, as exemplified by Gregory Bateson, Anthony Wilden, and Niklas Luhmann, turn out to be inseparable from theoretically astute inquiry into the nature of the book.
Sussman’s primary examples of such radical experiments with the history of the book are Sei Shonagon’s Pillow Book (both the text and Peter Greenaway’s screen adaptation), Stéphane Mallarmé’s “Un coup de dés,” Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project, Jacques Derrida’s Glas, Maurice Blanchot’s Death Sentence, and Franz Kafka’s enduring legacy within the world of the graphic novel.
In the author’s hands, close reading of these and related works renders definitive proof of the book’s persistence and vitality. The book medium, with its inbuilt format and program, continues, he argues, to supply the tablet or screen for cultural notation. The perennial crisis in which the book seems to languish is in fact an occasion for readers to realize fully their role as textual producers, to experience the full range of liberty in expression and articulation embedded in the irreducibly bookish process of textual display.