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  • Introduction
  • Sas Mays (bio) and Nicholas Thoburn (bio)

The epoch of the codex, if it could be given a determinate origin or end, could be said to concern some two thousand odd years of world history. Nevertheless, sustained critical and political engagement with the ways in which the material and institutional organization of the codex has been, and still is, part of the very fabric of subjectivity, sociality, and cultural and economic life, has been relatively recent. For much of its history, the medium of the book appears to have generally inoculated itself against too much theoretical and political interrogation of the specificities of its material forms - where such are considered as the relations between a range of materialities, from the nominally literal materiality of bindings, papers and inks, to the material social and economic conditions of their production and consumption. Indeed, it appears to have been in part the very dominance of print media that has kept it away from critical attention; as if its ubiquity has had the normative effect of making the particular conventions of print appear to be universal features of textual expression. Yet this situation is changing. As N. Katherine Hayles argues, in her recent exploration of the co-emergence of thought and media form: 'The Age of Print is passing, and the assumptions, presuppositions, and practices associated with it are now becoming visible as media-specific practices rather than the largely invisible status quo'.1 According to this argument, then, it is only with the waning of print and the emergence of alternative digital media that the specificity of media forms - old and new alike - come into view. It is within this juncture, with its complex inter-relations of media, considered in the dual sense of their literal and institutional materialities, that this collection intervenes, by bringing together articles that investigate the many materialities by which today's textual media are constituted. Not focused on any one media form, but on their interrelations, these materialities of text exist between the codex and the net.

Between the Codex and the Net

If print media, and the traditional codex forms of the book, are receding from their hegemonic interpenetration of the very fabric of cultural life, and if digital media appear in the ascendant in this regard, this juncture has spawned positive and negative responses to the question of the 'future of the book'. On the one hand, the printed book may be fetishised as a specific sensory, epistemological, and cultural unit, along with a nostalgia for its forms of collection - libraries, private and public - and the productive sureties and contingencies of their use. On the other hand, printed books, with their [End Page 7] traditional associations of authorial determination and canonical status, may be viewed as limiting and controlling devices linked to structures of economic and political power. On the one hand, the digital may be championed as the democratization of publication and the ownership of knowledge; on the other, it may be derided as that which points to the collapse of once-stable cultural and critical values. The future of the book might thus be the death of the book, as much as its transformation or rebirth. Nevertheless, what links these opposed positions is a tacit or explicit attachment to a sense of linear development from print to the digital - an evolution in technology and culture, positive or negative.

But such a historical and teleological sense obscures the inherent complexities of media forms. As Derrida's discussion in Paper Machine suggests, for example, the supposed death of the codex is complicated by its forms of living-on: the internet may be haunted by the book in terms of the webpage.2 There will thus be no ruptural break, no simple event of the death of the codex. But neither will there be an original birth of the digital text. Indeed, the nominally endless vertical extension of the webpage could be not only seen as a technological progression, but as a regression toward the dominant material form of writing preceding the codex: the scroll. Likewise, if the codex form of the book owes something of its basic physical structure to the wax tablet, the...


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pp. 7-21
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